Row erupts in council chamber as members discuss motion aimed at promoting tolerance

Latest council news.
Latest council news.

Antrim and Newtownabbey Council has unanimously passed a motion condemning hate crime in the borough - despite claims of a less than tolerant attitude displayed by several councillors during a discussion around the proposal.

The motion, brought forward by UUP Councillor Mervyn Rea at Monday night’s monthly meeting, was seconded by Sinn Féin Councillor Anne Marie Logue, and stated: “We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society. Racism, xenophobia and hate crimes of any nature have no place in our country.

“Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council condemns racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally.

“We will not allow hate to become acceptable.

“Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council will work to ensure that local organisations and programmes have support and resources needed to fight and prevent racism and xenophobia.

“All citizens living within Antrim and Newtownabbey can be reassured that they are valued members of our community.”

While councillors spoke out favourably in support of the motion and its intentions, exceptions were taken to Cllr Rea’s opening remarks when he had referred to Brexit and the increase of hate crimes following the EU referendum.

Cllr Philip Brett took exception to the reference to Brexit and said he was concerned by Cllr Rea linking Brexit to an increase in hate crimes; that there was an insinuation that those who voted to leave the EU were in some way linked.

Alderman Mark Cosgrove suggested that Cllr Brett had taken Cllr Rea’s comments “out of context”.

Alliance Cllr John Blair said the motion was relevant and real but wanted action not words, and said he feared otherwise it would be seen as “tokenism”.

Cllr David Hollis referred the chamber to the council’s equality scheme set up in 2015 with the Equality Commission. The TUV man said he wanted to remind councillors “what we have already agreed to”.

As he began to read from the document, Alderman Tom Campbell called a point of order to which Cllr Hollis responded by claiming that Alderman Campbell had called him “the enemy” in the chamber on a past occasion, and that he would continue to put forward his views.

Alderman Campbell, who described the TUV man as “Mr Grumpy most of the time”, asked for proof of Cllr Hollis’ claim, with UUP Cllr David Arthurs saying he was present when the Alliance representative was alleged to have made the comment.

With council meetings now audio recorded, Alderman Campbell challenged them to put forward the recording in which the comment was alleged to have been made.

Cllr Hollis replied that the comment was made at a meeting before the meeting officially started.

Following the heated debate between Alderman Campbell and Cllr Hollis, DUP Cllr Nigel Kells said the behaviour in the chamber was “getting disgraceful” and advised his council colleagues to read the wording of the motion and the reference to tolerance.

Responding to Cllr Blair’s claims of tokenism, Cllr Logue said there were ways the council could put the motion into action, for example hosting a reception for overseas workers living and working in the borough.

Following a show of hands, the motion was carried with unanimous support from across the council chamber.