Belfast Telegraph

Council motion on 'divisive' banners removal overturned

Vote: Mealla Campbell
Vote: Mealla Campbell
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

A council motion urging the PSNI to remove "divisive" banners in Co Armagh has been overturned.

Last month, a Sinn Fein Notice of Motion was brought before Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council calling on those erecting such banners to remove them.

If they failed to do so then it was agreed that the local authority would write to relevant agencies and the PSNI urging them to take them down.

In recent months, a number of 'Soldier F' banners have been erected throughout the district, including in towns such as Lurgan, Portadown, Banbridge and Armagh.

In last month's vote, 19 councillors were in favour and 19 were against, with SDLP Lord Mayor Mealla Campbell using her decisive vote to pass the motion.

After the decision was made the DUP used the call-in process to challenge it, allowing the council to reconsider with the necessary legal advice.

On Monday night, the motion was overturned and the DUP group leader on ABC Council, Mark Baxter, said that the use of the word divisive was "nondescript".

"The legal opinion sought as part of the call-in process mirrored my view that the term 'divisive' was nondescript and I argued on the night that the original Sinn Fein motion was a pointless and nonsensical exercise," said Mr Baxter. "The decision to render the motion null and void is the right decision. For other public agencies, such as the PSNI, to be expected to make a decision on what is divisive out in the community is not within their remit," he said.

"Sinn Fein should instead concentrate on council business and getting the best outcomes for ratepayers."

Sinn Fein councillor Liam Mackle, who proposed last month's motion, said the decision was "disappointing" but added that he wasn't surprised that the DUP used the call-in procedure.

"One of the things the call-in brought up was that 'divisive banners' was a bit vague in terms of what divisive banners were," he said.

"I tried to clarify that at Monday night's meeting but the difficulty was that when the motion was first passed there were three unionist members missing and the margins on ABC Council are that tight now.

"The unionist members were there in their totality on Monday night so they had the numbers and defeated the motion as it had to be reconsidered as part of the call-in process."

The Lurgan councillor went on to say that 'Soldier F' banners have been a major issue across the province and he had hoped the motion would have allowed the council to co-ordinate "some sort of action" in tandem with the PSNI and the Department for Infrastructure.

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