Row over army charity continues

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Sinn Fein has blasted the SDLP for failing to back their opposition to council funding a British army charity event.

Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon Council this week voted to send councillors to the Army Benevolent Fund event at a cost of around £150.

Joe Nelson

Joe Nelson

However Sinn Fein cllr Liam Mackle called on the SDLP to explain its position after failing to back a proposal that would have prevented ratepayers meeting the cost of councillors attending a British Army charity event.

At Monday night’s council meeting, councillors revisited a recent committee decision to buy tickets for councillors wishing to attend the event in March.

Cllr Mackle said: “Given the track record of the British Army here in the North and the ratepayers we represent, any councillor wishing to attend this event should do so but at their own expense. It is unacceptable that the ratepayer should foot the bill.

“During the committee meeting the SDLP abstained. Their MLA, Dolores Kelly, subsequently supported our party position to vote against the purchasing of tickets.

“In another U-turn, five of their six members refused to vote on the issue with their sixth councillor recording an abstention.

“The SDLP are clearly divided as to whether or not the ratepayer should fund councillors attendance at this British army event. They now need to explain their position to the ratepayer.”

SDLP Cllr Joe Nelson accused Sinn Fein of ‘amnesia’. “The SDLP has been accused of not supporing SF’s objection to spending ratepayers money on a British Army charity event. In the spirit of equality and respect that SF have been espousing since they pulled down the Assembly, we in the SDLP recognise, as democrats, that as the majority of ratepayers in our Borough are of Unionist persuasion and we would not object to their views being represented by their elected members attending this type of event. We recognise and do not in any way support the past actions of the British Army in NI which is why we took the decision either not to vote on the issue or abstain.

“This is something our members did at both at Committee and Full Council,” said Cllr Nelson.

“As we have been consistent in our approach it is puzzling to us why SF accuse us of doing a U-turn when council records would indicate that SF have done a major U-Turn in relation to this event. At a working group set up by council to commemorate the Battle of the Somme Item 5.2 Part(b) sought approval from council members to send four representatives to this same event on 7th May 2016. This working group met on 18th January 2016.

“This item was discussed by full council on 25th January 2016. SF members took part in the discussion on this item and had no objections at that time to approving the purchase of four tickets to attend this event at a cost of £152. Roll on two years and all of a sudden they do not approve that ratepayers money should be spent on the same event. Now that’s a U-turn if ever there was one.

“Maybe SF could clear up the internal confusion that seems to exist both in relation to this event and their policy on equality and respect which appears to be slightly one sided but then that’s no surprise.

“SF wanted this decision for £160 spend to be subjected to an Equality Impact Assessment which would have cost several thousands. Now where’s the cost to the ratepayer in that?

“Either there is internal confusion within SF as to what happened previously or they have embarked on a bit of SDLP bashing. Hardly surprising as there’s council elections coming up next year,” said Cllr Nelson.