Belfast Telegraph

Heated row in Belfast City Council over Gaza violence

By Andrew Madden, Local Democracy reporter

A heated row broke out at City Hall on Monday night during a debate on the recent violence on the Gaza Strip.

Sinn Fein had tabled a motion calling on Belfast City Council to urge Dublin to expel the Israeli ambassador in response to May’s bloodshed, which left dozens of Palestinians dead and thousands injured.

The motion also called for the UN to investigate the "genocide" committed by Israel.

Alliance leader Michael Long said that while he supported Sinn Fein's bid to open a public book of condolence for the victims of the violence - as they did last month in their room at City Hall - the motion was "too one-sided" and “deeply unhelpful”.

Mr Long proposed amending the motion to include the condemnation of bomb and mortar attacks by Hamas on Israel, while calling on both sides to resolve the conflict through dialogue.

DUP council group leader Lee Reynolds said the original motion was a "request to stand with Palestine" and his party would not be supporting it.

"This is a request to stand with Hamas and Hamas is not an organisation we are willing to stand beside," he added.

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said it was important to separate the people of Palestine from Hamas.

"I live under a Tory/DUP government. I am not a Tory or a member of the DUP," he added.

The debate took a heated turn however, during Ulster Unionist Alderman David Browne’s speech.

He said that Israel too been targeted by Hamas missiles and rockets and Israeli forces were defending their home.

Alderman Browne said during the Troubles, like Hamas, the IRA would to use children to lure out soldiers with stones and bricks before they would be shot by IRA gunmen.

“With respect to some of the people on the far side (on the Sinn Fein benches), they might want to look into their past history before they start talking about innocent people being killed, because they did enough killing in their own country,” he added.

He also criticised nationalist councillors' "one-sided" comments during the debate and urged them to be "careful in what they say".

Sinn Fein councillor Ciaran Beattie asked for clarification on who Alderman Browne’s remarks were directed at and the Ulster Unionist councillor replied: “some of the people on the far side of the chamber”.

In November, Alderman Browne apologised after referring to councillor Ciaran Beattie as a “one-armed bandit”. The Sinn Fein representative lost his left hand after being caught in an explosion during the Troubles.

Later in the debate, Sinn Fein’s JJ Magee stood to speak and referred to councillors in recent months having to apologise for remarks said in the chambers.

“What’s it like to be on a high moral ground over there?” the Oldpark representative asked, motioning towards the Ulster Unionist benches.

“He stands over there and talks about one side of the conflict – he doesn’t think about this side of the benches, where people have lost their sisters, their mothers, their grandfathers – and that’s just in the Oldpark ward,” Councillor Magee said.

“So for him to go on about loss and how it feels to lose people and how righteous he is about how people should die and then for other councillors to just stand up and say ‘it’s a war’ or ‘these things happen in a war’ – take a look at yourselves.

“We’re moving forward here. If you want to go on with this sad narrative that nothing happened here, it only happened on one side – it’s totally wrong.”

Alderman Browne attempted to speak in response, however Deputy Mayor McDonough-Brown said he wasn’t referred to by name and asked him to take his seat.

The Ulster Unionist councillor began shouting towards Councillor Magee off-mic, pointing his finger yelling “you should be ashamed of yourself”, before Mr Browne acceded to the Deputy Mayor’s requests for him to sit down and the meeting continued.

Later, the motion amended by Councillor Long was passed, 30 votes to 18.

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