A fiery debate over one of Northern Ireland’s newest tourist attractions became so heated it resulted in unionist and nationalist politicians ‘stepping outside’ during a council meeting.
Other councillors in Moyle looked on open-mouthed as Independent republican Padraig McShane and the DUP’s David McAllister exited a debate on the Giant’s Causeway together before jostling in the corridor outside council chambers. Pushing and shoving ensued between the pair before they returned to the meeting.
What should have been a run-of-the-mill gathering of members of Moyle District Council kicked off when Mr McShane expressed the view ratepayers in the area had been “robbed” by the decision to give the National Trust the green light to have full authority over the recently opened visitors’ centre and subsequent income generated by the centre and car parking facilities at the site.
Mr McAllister responded that Mr McShane’s former party — Sinn Fein — had supported the move at the time. He then alleged that rather than walking away from Sinn Fein, Mr McShane had been “kicked out” by the party in 2010.
Mr McShane reacted furiously, telling Mr McAllister to “shut his mouth” and calling him “a tramp”.
Mr McAllister called Mr McShane a “mouthpiece”.
They continued to goad one another across the chamber before both rising and exiting the room.
Both admitted to the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that while in a corridor adjacent to the chamber they engaged in some “pushing and shoving” but denied any punches were thrown on Monday night.
Mr McShane played down the spat as “handbags” yesterday, adding there is no need for either to apologise as they “are both grown men”.
“There was a bit of pushing and shoving but it was more or less keeping each other at arm’s length,” he said.
“When I ask questions about the Giant’s Causeway and the deal that was done with the National Trust I find it worrying that other councillors are castigating me for asking about it.
“The people of Moyle were left with no opportunity but to forego the Giant’s Causeway. We wanted to keep it in the public domain rather than be made private so the National Trust was the only option. I believe there is about £3-£4m the ratepayers of Moyle are missing out on.
“I think it should be of concern to all councillors and ratepayers.
“But it was handbags at 10 paces and I wouldn’t be getting wile excited about it. We are both adults and will get on with the job at hand.”
Mr McAllister also moved to play down the row.
“I said something and Paudi didn’t like it and that was it,” he said.
“It wasn’t the fact he was talking about the National Trust it was that Sinn Fein supported it at that particular time and I said it was a pity he didn’t remember that was the party that kicked you out.
“Him and me will always have a difference of opinion politically and that’s hardly going to change.”