A Lisburn Castlereagh committee meeting descended into an angry shouting match on Wednesday — with one councillor accusing one of his colleagues of "being against democracy".
Chairman of the Environmental Committee Nathan Anderson raged after a fellow councillor said it was “disappointing” that members decided to attend the meeting in the council chamber rather than Zoom.
Councillor Martin Gregg said he wanted his point of interest to be “put on record”, saying members had decided to take their seats in the council chamber despite advice from the NI Executive to work remotely if possible.
Speaking via Zoom, the Alliance Cllr said: “As the camera darts around the chamber, I want to record my disappointment at the number of councillors that are in the chamber.
“Given the recent announcement from Stormont and the rise of Covid and the stay at home instruction. Following on from the Chief (Executive’s) email before Christmas asking that all councillors and whoever could work from home or work meetings remotely should do so.
“Given where we are, it’s disappointing to see the number of people that are in the chamber. Whatever reason members have for being there, the council officers should work with those members to assist them.”
However, DUP Councillor, Nathan Anderson, took issue with the comments branding them “unfair”, pointing out that six members from the committee attended the meeting from the chamber.
“We are in fulfillment of the guidance because we are key workers and we are very clear on that,” Cllr Anderson said.
“We are within the rules and there has also been a risk assessment done. Some people may not feel that it is okay to do your democractic duty and speak but some people do.
“Members have to be aware that democracy is very important and the ability for us as elected members to represent our constituencies always takes priority, some might not want to do that. It is unfair to criticise members for doing their duty.”
Councillor Paul Porter, who also attended the meeting online, said Cllr Gregg’s comments were "difficult to understand" considering the current circumstances.
He said: “We all have our own issues and I think it rather disappointing that Councillor Gregg for whatever reason thought this was the best way to raise this point.
“Some people who work might not have time to head home and the easiest way for them to attend the meeting and do their duty is to come into the chamber. Everybody is trying their best and I thought it rather disappointing to be lectured when we are all trying our best.”
However, Councillor Gregg refuted the allegation saying he wasn’t “questioning anybody’s right to speak”.
Raising a point of order, Councillor Gregg added: “You were calling me out saying that I was criticizing or trying to compromise democracy which was a ridiculous statement.”
The committee chairman took note of the Cllr Gregg’s point of order before moving on.