Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Belfast City Council

Belfast City Council has been called many things in its time. But mature isn't a word that immediately springs to mind.

On Monday night, however, 49 of the 51 elected members (two were absent from the full monthly meeting) from all political parties put on an impressive - and unprecedented - display of civic leadership.

After standing for a minute's silence to remember Constable Ronan Kerr, the 25-year-old who was murdered by dissident republicans in Co Tyrone last weekend, all members turned down the chance to score some cheap political points by moving straight to a vote on one of the most contentious issues on their agenda.

Instead of engaging in a slanging-match, members opted for a more dignified display of hands on a DUP motion to stage a military parade for Army personnel returning from Afghanistan.

The remarkable display of political maturity was mooted by Ulster Unionist councillor, Davy Brown, who urged members not to become embroiled in a Green/Orange row.

"There's no chance of anybody changing their mind on this," Brown told the chamber. "I would ask that the chamber consider going straight to a vote. There's no point in us tearing lumps out of each other over this."

In the end, the motion reading, 'The City of Belfast extends a warm invitation to the military authorities to hold a homecoming parade here in order to welcome home members of the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards on their safe return from their deployment to Afghanistan' was passed by 26 votes to 20.

The DUP, UUP, PUP and Alliance Party voted in favour, with the SDLP and Sinn Fein members voting against.

DUP man Christopher Stalford said: "I am delighted that people in Belfast will be afforded the opportunity to pay their respects to the brave heroes returning from Afghanistan.

"We now look forward to putting in place the preparations for what will be a joyous occasion for everyone in the city."

Gerard O'Neill, from Sinn Fein, said his party was opposed to the military march and would be considering whether to stage a picket.

Regardless of the result, or where you stand on the issue of a homecoming parade, the council's decision not to open up a can of worms is an encouraging sign that politics is moving forward.

LESLEY-ANNE HENRY

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