by Gareth Cross
A row erupted in Derry's council chamber last week over the conduct of the mayor.
Unionist councillors said that they felt the Mayor Maolíosa McHugh was not representing both sides of the community with Independent unionist councillor and former Mayor of Derry Maurice Devenney calling for him to consider his position.
The row comes after the mayor visited republican Tony Taylor at Maghaberry Prison earlier this month while wearing his chain of office.
The issue was raised via a motion by former DUP Mayor of Derry Hilary McClintock at a full meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council in the Guildhall last week.
Alderman McClintock's motion called on the council to 're-iterate the civic responsibility of the holder of the office of Mayor to represent all; and recognises that this has been severely compromised by the ongoing politicisation of the role by Mayor McHugh, wearing the chain of office on several occasions whilst promoting his own party politics to the detriment of good relations'.
The motion also called on the mayor to apologise and 'commit to carry out his duties in an inclusive manner and represent all the citizens of the council area for the remainder of his term.
It was seconded by DUP councillor Drew Thompson, another former mayor.
Alderman McClintock also noted that Mayor McHugh had worn his chain of office at a Sinn Fein election victory rally and a rally in Guildhall Square calling for Mr Taylor's release.
She said that the mayor's behaviour had been 'offensive to unionists in this region' and that he had 'compromised unity'.
Alderman McClintock told council that the mayor had a genuine love of the Irish language which he had promoted but there was 'no reciprocal token acknowledgement to the rightful name of this city, Londonderry'.
She said that many steps had been taken to improve relations between communities over the years but that she regretted 'to say community relations have taken a backward step'.
Alderman McClintock said she was asking for 'equality, respect and integrity'.
Responding Mayor McHugh told council that he was 'disappointed with the motion'.
He said that he visited many community groups and never asked anyone about their politics or religion.
Mayor McHugh said that he had found all groups very welcoming except one or two people that he said had shown 'bad manners'.
He told council that Tony Taylor was a resident of the community who had been subject to 'internment' and that it was only right that people stood up for his rights.
The mayor outlined what he 'would do for anyone in our community’ and added: ‘I would stand up for you Alderman McClintock if you found yourself in the same position'.
He said that he would 'make no apology for raising a human rights issue'
Mayor McHugh told Alderman McClintock that he felt the motion was 'party political' and that he would 'suggest you get used to it as I won't shrink (from responsibility) at any other time'.
Sinn Fein councillor Eric McGinley echoed his party's 'disappointment at the motion and described it as 'ill timed' and 'not making much sense'.
He told the meeting that he felt the mayor had 'ably represented all citizens at each and every function' and that supporting Mr Taylor's release was council's corporate policy.
Alderman Devenney fired back at the mayor telling him that there was 'grave concern amongst the unionist community' following his actions.
He told Mayor McHugh that 'I would assure you your not representing me or the unionist family' when visiting 'terrorist' Tony Taylor.
Mayor McHugh reminded Alderman Devenney that they were not there to discuss Mr Taylor's past.
Alderman Devenney said that council had a 'good, good record in cross-community' work and that 'innocent victims' have human rights too.
He proposed an amendment to the motion calling for Mayor McHugh to consider his position.
The motion was defeated with only the unionist council members voting in its favour.
Independent councillor Gary Donnelly said that there were many issues he would disagree on with the mayor but that he had always found him 'courteous and respectful'.
He said that he would take the same position if Tony Taylor was a loyalist and noted that he had proposed the motion which the council passed calling for Mr Taylor's release.
Alderman Hilary McClintock called for a 'point of order' as Alderman Devenney had been prevented from discussing Mr Taylor.
Mayor McHugh told Alderman McClintock 'you've had your year as Mayor, I'm Mayor now'.
Cllr Donnelly said that the behaviour of Alderman McClintock showed 'robust debate' similar to that which 'caused Gary Middleton to run out of a meeting the other night'.
SDLP councillor Brian Tierney noted that he had raised the issue of the mayor attending a Sinn Fein election rally wearing his chain in the past.
He told council that he had recently attended an event at which the mayor was present and found him 'courteous and respectful'.
Cllr Tierney said that supporting Mr Taylor's release was the position of the council 'whether the DUP like or not' but noted that there were 'some genuine concerns' around the mayor which he hoped 'you will reflect on'.
Independent councillor Paul Gallagher said that there were many times he had not seen 'eye to eye' with the mayor but that he felt he had behaved with the 'utmost courtesy'.
However, Cllr Gallagher did note that the mayor might be accused of bias for chairing a motion about himself.
Mayor McHugh said that he 'doubted very much in chairing this meeting that I've shown bias but I will let everyone speak'.
DUP councillor Drew Thompson told council that the mayor had 'shown bias today' and 'not conducted yourself in a manner befitting of mayor'.
Alderman Thompson said that the mayor had not been impartial and that he had 'clear evidence' of this.
He told council he would use the evidence if he 'deemed it necessary'.
Alderman Thompson said that he believed the mayor's 'judgement leaves a lot to be desired'.
He asked 'I wonder who the victims are in this city? People say Tony Taylor is a victim, what about people who were murdered?'
Mayor McHugh instructed Cllr Thompson to talk about the motion.
Alderman Thompson said the mayor was not 'giving me the oppourtunity to say what I have to say.
He told council 'there are 30,000 unionists in this city and you are not on the same wavelength as them'.
Alderman Thompson acknowledged it was still early in Cllr McHugh's time as mayor and urged him to 'take stock'.
UUP councillor Mary Hamilton agreed that Mayor McHugh was 'not representing the UUP or the unionists in this city'.
In summary Alderman McClintock said that she found the mayor 'very courteous on a personal level' but that visiting Tony Taylor in prison as part of a 'Sinn Fein delegation' was 'one step too far' and said it would be a sad day for the city if councillors would not back a vote for the mayor to behave sensitively.
Responding, Mayor McHugh said he was not part of a Sinn Fein delegation visiting Mr Taylor and that other elected representatives were supposed to attend the event.
The motion was defeated by a vote of eight for and 23 against.
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