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Petty Belfast City Council row over name of state shameful: Alliance

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Disappointed: Peter McReyolds

Disappointed: Peter McReyolds

Amendment: DUP’s Dale Pankhurst sought change in wording of motion

Amendment: DUP’s Dale Pankhurst sought change in wording of motion

Disappointed: Peter McReyolds

An Alliance councillor said he watched on "in complete frustration" as a row erupted during a meeting of Belfast City Council over the term "North Of Ireland" during a debate.

At one stage Michael Long told his fellow councillors to "catch themselves on" after a half hour session of "Punch and Judy, pantomime politics".

DUP and Sinn Fein members exchanged petulant jibes on Tuesday night over the use of the term "North Of Ireland" in a debate over housing standards.

They reprimanded each other as "petty" and "childish" after the DUP's Dale Pankhurst asked for an amendment on a Sinn Fein housing motion, which involved changing the words "North of Ireland" to "Northern Ireland".

"It was so frustrating that when we actually had the DUP and Sinn Fein agreeing over a policy, they had to resort back to Punch and Judy, pantomime politics in front of everyone," said Mr Long.

"It looks sad and petty to everyone watching on in despair, but it's typical of what we have to put up with on Belfast City Council.

"In the end I just had to say what everyone else was thinking: 'Catch yourselves on'."

The debate on the matter, which involved more time spent on the terminology of the region than housing conditions, ended with the council agreeing to use the term "this district".

"It was terribly disappointing to have to watch that," added Alliance's Peter McReynolds.

"It was a remote meeting and when the bickering started you could just see the faces drop on the screen.

"The atmosphere completely changed from one of being positive to one of 'here we go again'.

"It's a shame that a petty squabble is detracting from a meeting which saw so many positive things happening.

"As a council we need to be seen to be doing positive things for the city.

"This is 2020. There are much better things we could be spending our time doing other than embarrassing the council like this.

"People don't want to see it. They want us to be making their lives better, not giving up our meetings to petulant, childish jibes back and forth. We're in the middle of a global pandemic and people deserve better."

Sinn Fein's Claire Canavan had forwarded the motion urging a Stormont review of housing standards.

The motion asked councillors to note "that the current housing fitness standard that is applied to private rented housing in the North of Ireland is the statutory minimum physical standard which focuses on the most basic structural standards for human habitation and applies to all tenures. It was last updated in 1992".

Mr Pankhurst said: "The DUP agrees with the sentiment of this motion.

"I deal with more housing cases than I do anything else."

But he proposed two amendments to replace the term North of Ireland with Northern Ireland, and to add paragraphs on social housing.

Green councillor Mal O'Hara added: "I want to express exasperation that amendments have corrected other people's terminology in what they call this place. I think we could do with a lot more respect."

Belfast Telegraph