20 May 2022

INTERVIEW: Cllr Aaron Callan: lower rate would have impacted services

Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council recently struck a rate of 2.49%.

INTERVIEW: Cllr Aaron Callan: lower rate would have impacted services

Liam Tunney speaks to DUP councillor Aaron Callan about his family's history of service, switching allegiance to the DUP and the paradoxes of history.

This is a shorter version of the full interview, which can be accessed in podcast form here.

Liam Tunney: Why did you get into politics?

Aaron Callan: My family has always been a family of service. My grandfather served for 35 years in the fire service and I've had cousins and family members who've served in the RUC and the army.

I was never going to join the army or anything like that, so the best way I could give service was through politics and giving back to the community.

I'm very proud to be from Limavady, very passionate about the area and I like to be part of the solutions and bringing some good to the area

LT: What would you say has been your best achievement on the council?

AC: One of the things I'm very passionate about is our local area, and seeing the play park come to fruition.

Internally on the council, things that maybe aren't as important to constituents, making the running of the council better has been pleasing.

For example, I pushed for a Finance Committee to be set up and I think it's helped to make the business of the council more productive.

LT: What has you biggest challenge been?

AC: You had four different council areas coming into one and developing those relationships, not only within your own party, but with other colleagues across the Borough has been challenging at times.

Everybody is fighting for their own area, and it's making sure we get an outcome for the council as a whole.

LT: You've touched on co-operation there. The council has a reputation for a lack of co-operation. How can that be improved?

AC: People have their own viewpoints and discussion points, but we agree on bringing further investment, more jobs and prosperity to the area.

It goes back to building relationships and making sure you can maintain them. Sometimes they are a bit fraught.

It's about making sure, when we come to those decision points, we can do it in a manageable way. I miss being in the chamber and being able to have a chat with my own colleagues and other parties.

LT: Politics and people are constantly evolving. You started with the UUP. Could you tell me why you started with the UUP and then why you moved to the DUP?

AC: My family were always Ulster Unionist. My great-great grandfather ran for council for the UUP in Bellarena during the 1940s.

The reason I changed over was because I felt the UUP was no longer favourable for unionism.

The DUP was the leading voice and I also felt unionism needed to be working together more and felt I had to show myself that I could work for other unionists.

Cllr Callan with former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt. The Limavady councillor began political life in the UUP.

LT: You were a major driver in the Portrush Air Show plans that came to council last month. Many of your constituents in Limavady might ask 'what's in it for me?' Could you tell them?

AC: The air show brings eyes to the area and means people will come and visit. It opens up the door for people to see other parts of the area.

Having big events like the air show, showcases our area in a good way and it means that people who come to the air show might think they want to visit Limavady.

LT: One of the main reasons for objection is the link to the Queen's Jubilee. Does the opposition frustrate you?

AC: The Queen is one of the most respected people in the world. When she turned 90 she visited the area. At the time the mayor was nationalist and welcomed the Queen with open arms.

You don't have to be a royalist to be part of this or celebrate what the Royal family stands for, but it would be a way of tying into a larger, significant national event.

It's frustrating that people can't see the positives. I think we can create events we all can share in, but sometimes it comes down to trying to create an orange and green situation.

LT: You have a big interest in local history. How has that shaped you and your politics?

AC: British and Irish history is full of ironies and paradoxes. When the Act of Union came about, the Orange Order, now seen as a firm supporter of the Union, was originally opposed to it.

Reading through old newspaper records, issues that have come up in council in recent years are issues that have come up in council 50 or 100 years ago.

We have a very short-term institutional memory. We're focused on the here and now and sometimes it's good to have that longer perspective.

LT: Council set the rate last week at 2.49%. Since then Mid Ulster have set a 0% rate. The outworking is that Kilrea's rates went up, but just down the road in Maghera they were frozen. Do you still feel the rate set is appropriate?

AC: Yeah. Over the lifetime of our council, we have set the second lowest rates in Northern Ireland. We have been as prudent as we can. We are a very lean council, but there are other factors at play as well.

We want to maintain services that all the community rely on and that are vital to what the community does, especially coming out the other end of Covid-19.

If we had gone any lower it was going to impact on what we do as a council and what services we provide.

LT: Finally, have you any goals you want to achieve in the rest of the council term?

AC: There is a never-ending list of things we'd like to see done, but the Limavady play park is one I know all councillors in Limavady have been developing for the best part of four years.

I think that Roe Mill Playing Area can be developed into a real hub of activity for the local community, whether you want to play football, go to the park or just do a walk.

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