Agenda item

Suspension of Standing Orders - Paramilitary Flags and Banners (GSP79/19)

Minutes:

Councillor Donnelly stated that he had reservations regarding the proposal carried at the meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee on 2 July 2019 regarding flags and banners.  He stated that there were a number of banners erected in the Bogside area promoting a range of local businesses and expressed concern towards the repercussions towards this type of advertising if the proposal was passed.

                        Councillor McCann stated that the wording of the proposal should be carefully considered as in his opinion, Council would be handing over control to a government department regarding what banners and placards can be erected at particular locations.  He further stated that banners deemed as offensive to any section of the community should be removed as this was a matter of principle and not aimed at a particular community. 

                        Councillor Jackson stated that Sinn Féin had supported the motion presented before the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee and continued to support it.  He stated that the motion challenged the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to take action regarding flags and banners that caused division and hurt to people throughout the Council area.  He further stated that he had been contacted on a regular basis by residents from the Waterside area who had felt intimidated by flags and banners erected outside their homes.  He stated that the residents believed it was deliberate intimidation and that the DfI needed to take action on such matters.  He further stated that the DfI response to the matter was unacceptable and that the motion goes some way in bringing a level of accountability to them.

                        Councillor Reilly reiterated his comments made at the meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee that the DfI routinely took action against local businesses advertising on their public street furniture, therefore why not uphold the law when considering paramilitary flags and items designed to offend.  He stated that a banner advertising a concert was erected in the same spot as a Parachute Regiment flag at Caw Roundabout.  He stated that the DfI would remove the sign advertising an event but would not remove the flag erected to create offence rather than promote events. He stated that small businesses throughout the City and District were feeling the impact of the actions taken by the DfI, yet those wanting to offend people were not.

                        Councillor Harkin stated that PBP would not be supporting the motion.  He referred to section 2 of the proposal, ‘all banners without planning permission on Department for Infrastructure property, unless permission is granted with protocols that protect citizens.’  He stated that this did not solely attribute to Soldier F banners or Parachute Regiment flags that were erected to cause pain to the victims of that regiment.  He stated that his party had clearly demanded that Soldier F banners and Parachute Regiment flags be removed.

                        The Mayor advised that the motion had been voted on and passed at the Council meeting held on 27 June 2019 and whilst she respected and appreciated comments on the matter, it had already been passed.

                        Councillor Harkin advised that the motion had been approved at the meeting, however it had not been agreed upon at Council. 

                        Councillor Duffy referred to the use of WebEx at a recent Special Council meeting and enquired if it could be used at future Council meetings.

                        The Director of Business and Culture stated that he would pass on the request to the relevant department.

                        At this point in the meeting, the Mayor reminded Members that vaping was not permitted within the Chamber.

Councillor Harkin Proposed an Amendment to the Motion, Seconded by Councillor McCann

This Council condemns the display of offensive banners and paramilitary flags across Derry, Strabane and the North.  The recent erection of banners such as ‘Support Soldier F’ and parachute regiment flags which give great offence to the victims of the parachute regiment

That this Council takes legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

Support for Soldier F banners, and other such materials which have served to retraumatise victims of the paratroopers that erected on DfI property.

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all council areas in the six counties. In the meantime, Council considers what action it can take under the Clean Neighbourhood Act 2011.

Councillor Donnelly stated that he sought clarity from Councillor Harkin regarding banners that could cause offence and referred to posters and banners erected to notify people of events such as republican commemorative events and asked if these would be included.

Councillor Harkin stated that he took the comments raised on board and outlined that the motion related specifically to the Soldier F banners and Parachute Regiment flags. He then a requested a short recess to discuss the matter.

Members agreed and after a short recess;

Councillor Harkin Proposed an Amendment to the Motion, Seconded by Councillor McCann

That this Council takes legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

Support ‘for Soldier F’ banners, and other such materials which have served to retraumatise victims of the Paratroopers that erected on DfI property.

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all council areas in the six counties. In the meantime, Council considers what action it can take under the Clean Neighbourhood Act 2011.

Councillor McKinney stated that the Alliance party felt that the erection of flags and banners should not be flown in shared spaces.

Councillor Reilly stated that his party would not be supporting the amendment as all reference to paramilitary flags had been removed. He stated that the motion presented at Governance and Strategic Planning included an all-encompassing text to show that regardless of background, anything put on a lamppost to create offence should be removed.  He noted that Belfast City Council had agreed to take action against the DfI which will take place regardless of what was agreed at the meeting.  He stated that this proposal would put a burden on the rate payer as Belfast had already agreed to take legal action against DfI  and that any outcome of that legal action would have an impact on all eleven councils. 

Alderman McClintock stated that there were many who would say that they were exercising their right to show support for Soldier F, however accepted that there would be different views from Members in the Chamber.  She further stated that the Parachute Regiment flag was not paramilitary or illegal and described it as convenient for Councillors from the Waterside area of the City to refer to these flags whilst dissident republican flags were flown in the area known as the Top of the Hill.  She added that she did not support the flying of paramilitary flags however reiterated that the flag of the Parachute Regiment was not a paramilitary flag.

Councillor Jackson concurred with the sentiments expressed by Councillor Reilly and stated that Sinn Fein would not be supporting the amendment.  He stated that the proposal was initially presented because of the hurt and division caused by offensive material erected on lampposts and street furniture throughout the Council area and that the DfI had a responsibility to act accordingly.

Continuing, he referred to comments made by Alderman McClintock and stated that she was correct that people had the right to exercise support towards Soldier F.  However, those particular flags and banners had been erected at particular interfaces throughout the communities to deliberately cause offence. Therefore he believed that only a small element were exercising their right as he had been contacted by residents of the Waterside area regarding the blatant intimidation shown by the flying of those banners and flags. 

Councillor Reilly also referred to comments made by Alderman McClintock and stated that in relation to action taken by the nationalist community regarding flags and emblems erected in nationalist areas, that the SDLP along with others, actively worked to have them removed.

Councillor McCann stated that it was his belief that there was a specific difference in the Soldier F case in comparison to all other cases and that he would have been satisfied if the proposal had solely referred to the removal of Soldier F banners and Parachute Regiment flags.  He referred to comments made by Alderman McClintock and concurred that people had a right to show their support.  However the notion that the parachute regiment flag not being a paramilitary flag somehow made it more acceptable, did not withstand the examination of the record of the Parachute Regiment over the years throughout Northern Ireland.  He referred to Mr Richard McKinney and Mr Robert Johnston who were killed by Paratroopers, including Soldier F, on 7 September 1972 on the Lower Shankill Road. Therefore the idea that support for Soldier F could be associated with one particular community was nonsense.  He stated that Soldier F was no friend of the Protestant community and was an enemy of anyone from any background in the North of Ireland.  He stated that the comments were made by Lord Savile and were privileged by law.  He further stated that Lord Savile had remarked on the paratroopers involved in Bloody Sunday with the exception of Private T, ‘that all of the Paratroopers knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing’.  Concluding, he stated that he would happily agree that all charges be withdrawn against Soldier F and to all the Paratroopers who opened fire on Bloody Sunday if the senior officers who sent Soldier F and his comrades into the Bogside, knowing what was expected from them where held accountable. 

Councillor Harkin Proposed an Amendment to the Motion, Seconded by Councillor McCann

That this Council takes legal action against the Department for Infrastructure, enforcing them to remove:

Support ‘for Soldier F’ banners, and other such materials which have served to retraumatise victims of the Paratroopers that were erected on DfI property.

This Council also notes that any legal obligations placed on the Department resulting from this legal action will be binding across all council areas in the six counties. In the meantime, Council considers what action it can take under the Clean Neighbourhood Act 2011.

After voting by a show of hands on the Amendment, the result was as follows;

For – 5; Against – 27; Abstentions – 2.

The Amendment therefore fell.

In response to a query by Councillor Harkin, the Mayor advised that no vote would be taken on the original proposal as it had previously been endorsed at the meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.

Councillor Gallagher remarked that a proposal could be put forward not to adopt that particular item within the minutes.

Councillor Gallagher Proposed, Seconded by Councillor Donnelly

That    Minute item GSP 79/19 Suspension of Standing Orders – Paramilitary Flags and Banners does not be ratified as part of the minutes of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting held on 2 July 2019.

Councillor Reilly stated that if the minute item was not ratified, as a result, Council were not taking any action in relation to the removal of paramilitary flags for the support of Soldier F.  He stated that he could not support that Council take no action regarding this issue.  He noted that members of the Bloody Sunday families had been present in the public gallery who were hurt by those flags in support for Soldier F being displayed across the City and District.  He stated that the families had been satisfied that Members had agreed to take action on the matter at the meeting of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee.  However, Members were now considering a situation were no action would be taken.  He stated that the SDLP could not support this decision as they were supporting the adoption of the minutes that had previously been agreed.

Councillor Donnelly stated that Councillor Harkin had just presented a motion that dealt solely with Soldier F flags and banners and that Councillor Reilly had voted against it.  He stated that he had previously outlined his concerns regarding the original motion where it stated ‘all banners without permission.’ 

In response, Councillor Reilly stated that the outworking of the proposal not to ratify that minute item by Councillor Gallagher would result that the Council would take no action in relation to flags and banners in support of Soldier F and the Parachute Regiment.

Councillor Duffy concurred with the sentiments expressed by Councillor Reilly and stated that there was a proposal calling for the DfI to address the flying of offensive paramilitary flags and banners.  He stated that Members had the opportunity to deal with the matter appropriately.  She enquired if a particular item could be separated from the minutes to be voted upon.

Councillor Gallagher stated that non-adoption of minutes in the entirety or in part had been carried out on many occasions in the past.  He stated that his call for this particular minute item not to be adopted was because of concerns regarding Council property, for instance the City Cemetery.  He explained that flags were flown in the cemetery to commemorate events such as the Easter Rising and stated that families of the volunteers would be upset if these were removed.

Councillor Gallagher Proposed, Seconded by Councillor Donnelly

That    Minute item GSP 79/19 Suspension of Standing Orders – Paramilitary Flags and Banners is not ratified as part of the minutes of the Governance and Strategic Planning Committee meeting held on 2 July 2019.

After a request by Councillor Donnelly for a recorded vote, the result was as follows:

For – Councillors Donnelly and Gallagher (2)

                        Against – Aldermen Bresland, Devenney, Kerrigan, McClintock, McCready and Warke; Councillors J Barr, R Barr, J Boyle, M Boyle, Burke, Carr, Cusack, Dobbins, Duffy, Durkan, Farrell, Fleming, Hunter, Jackson, Kelly, Logue, McGuire, McHugh, McKeever, McLaughlin, Mellon, Reilly and Tierney (29)

                        Abstentions – Councillors Harkin, McCann, McCloskey and McKinney (4)

                        The Amendment therefore fell.      

Councillor Reilly Proposed, Seconded by Councillor J Boyle and the Council

Resolved       that the above minutes be adopted as a true record of the meeting.