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Council motion reeks of politicking

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 06/04/2016

Secretary of State Theresa Villiers
Secretary of State Theresa Villiers

Northern Ireland's 11 new supercouncils have been given additional powers including planning and economic development. This was meant to signify that the councils - traditionally associated with burying the dead and emptying the bins - would become responsible local authorities able and willing to work on behalf of all the ratepayers and provide a street-level face to governance.

Their 26 predecessors, especially during the period of direct rule, were often political bearpits where every party's grievances and, in some cases, loathing of each other were aired with depressing regularity.

Derry City and Strabane District Council is going about creating an inclusive atmosphere in a very strange way, with nationalist members supporting a motion calling on the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers to release a republican prisoner.

The man in question, Tony Taylor, has a track record in terrorism, having been sentenced in 1994 to 18 years in jail for planting a bomb in Londonderry. He was released early under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement but was jailed again in 2011 for three years for possessing a rifle.

He was arrested at his home and returned to prison on the orders of the Secretary of State last month.

While some councillors, particularly at this pre-election time, may be concerned about the Secretary of State exercising her power to return someone to jail, this is a matter which should be dealt with at NI Assembly-level, with representations made to the Justice Department and the Secretary of State from there.

Dividing the council on this issue makes no sense and marks a return to the majority membership forcing through unpopular and divisive issues, just as happened in Newry when a children's play park was officially named after a dead hunger striker.

Councillors of all parties should be wary of creating tensions within their local authorities. As the politicians most in touch with ratepayers, their actions can set a tone which will be mimicked on the streets.

It should also be remembered that the minority parties in councils can soon feel embittered and ignored - hardly the atmosphere that members should be seeking to create. We need political leadership at all levels of governance, not petty politicking.

Belfast Telegraph

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