There were lively scenes at today’s special council meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Palestine.
The DUP didn’t attend saying they were 'too busy with local issues to waste an afternoon', a UUP councillor walked out, a Unionist independent councillor said Sinn Féin were an inspiration to the Palestinian terrorist organisation, Hamas, and a Nationalist independent councillor claimed council pensions were investing in a company operating in the occupied West Bank.
At the outset of the meeting, Mayor Maolíosa McHugh explained that the meeting was called in response to ongoing situation in Gaza and the killing of up to 60 Palestine protesters there by the Israeli army last week, which also left up to 2,500 people injured.
Alderman Derek Hussey, UUP, asked that it be clarified what regulations the meeting was called under. The Mayor said that it had been called by him as chair of the last meeting.
Councillor Sandra Duffy, Sinn Féin, began by thanking the Mayor for opening the book of condolence for ‘the people of this city and district to express their heartfelt feelings on this slaughter’.
She added that the people of Derry and Strabane have a ‘proud history of standing against oppression both at home and throughout the world and this meeting is giving us the opportunity to do this’.
Cllr Duffy said there had been rallies of support locally for the Palestinian people, who had been protesting against the American government’s decision to relocate their embassy in the Palestiniam capital of Jerusalem and to mark the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, when more than 700,000 Palestinians were forced or fled from their homes due to Israeli occupation. She said ‘the brutality of the Israeli Army has been laid bare for the world to see’.
She also called on An Taoiseach, Leo Vradkar, to expel the Israeli ambassador in Ireland as voted for by numerous councils and recognise the state of Palestine as approved by the Dáil in 2014.
Cllr Duffy proposed that council facilities in Derry and Strabane are lit up for 48 hours in the colours of the Palestinian flag.
Alderman Hussey argued that this proposal should not stand as rules he believed applied to the meeting deemed ‘no business shall be transacted’.
However, Mayor McHugh said that any proposals in relation to what was being discussed could be decided. At this point, Alderman Hussey said he had no choice but to leave and walked out of the meeting.
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly seconded Cllr Duffy’s motion and said that Derry had an affinity with Palestine because of Bloody Sunday and ‘the action of state forces on our soil’.
Independent Unionist councillor, Maurice Devenney asked why council was ‘concerned once again with Palestine’ as there were local issues of health, education, addiction and anti-social behaviour locally that needed addressed. He said that any letters sent from council to Israel would be ‘ripped up and thrown in the bin’.
Alderman Devenney then said that it didn’t surprise him that Sinn Féin made this proposal as ‘Hamas were a terrorist group who had mirrored themselves on some of the workings of Sinn Féin’.
Mayor McHugh told Alderman Devennney that Sinn Féin could not be held responsible for atrocities throughout Northern Ireland and warned him: “I will not tolerate that from you.”
Aderman Devenney replied by asking if no Sinn Féin member had ever been charged with offences of terrorism, to which Mayor McHugh said: “I will not listen to these insults.”
Mayor Mc Hugh warned Alderman Devenney if he did not stick to the matter in hand, he would not be heard. Alderman Devenney retorted: “The truth hurts.”
He continued by saying that Israeli rules and regulations ‘unfortunately allows them to fire live rounds at those bringing their security under threat’.
Sinn Féin Councillor Karina Carlin corrected Alderman Devenney by saying there was ‘absolutely no evidence of any sort that Israeli forces came under attack’ and that there is no ‘border’ as Israel do not accept a ‘two state solution. She said that there was a huge ‘buffer zone’ and that ‘unless there was a sniper, they couldn’t possibly pose any threat’. Cllr Carlin said she wanted to ‘stop the misinformation flowing from Israeli news sources’.
The motion made by Cllr Duffy to light up the council buildings was voted on with everyone voting for it, except Alderman Devenney.
He then said it would be ‘remiss’ if they didn’t acknowledge 10 people murdered in Texas over the weekend and proposed to light the Guildhall up in the colours of the American flag. Mayor McHugh said that, as it was the Palestinian issue being discussed, Alderman Devenney could raise that at another meeting.
List of Israeli products for boycott
Another motion was made by independent councillor, Paul Gallagher, who made the proposal that ‘we take solidarity a bit further and write to every household and business within the city and district to provide a BDS list of all the products supplied from Israel.”
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law.
Cllr Gallagher’s motion was seconded by independent councillor, Gary Donnelly.
SDLP Councillor Martin Reilly suggested it could be incorporated into a council magazine or through online outlets to reduce any related costs.
Chief Executive John Kelpie said that they were still waiting on a legal opinion for clarification about council distributing sharing this information and added that printing leaflets would cost in the region of £50,000.
Sinn Féin Councillor Christopher Jackson said that BDS was a ‘tool for taking a peaceful stand against an apartheid state that commits human rights violations on a daily basis’. He called for a speedy resolution on the legal second opinion.
SDLP Councillor Tina Gardiner voiced concerns about how much it would cost when council doesn’t have the funding for local charities such as the Foyle Haven. She also said it would impact adversely on the environment if thousands of leaflets were printed to relay the information to the community.
Alderman Devenney agreed with her and said: “There are those out there that don’t want to see these leaflets coming in their door. It’s tight times and I do believe it’s wrong.”
Councillor Gallagher said that by distributing the BDS list to boycott Israeli goods, it was taking a stand. He added: “If we didn’t take a stand there would still be apartheid Africa.”
Cllr Duffy said Cllr Gallagher had her ‘absolute support’ but added that she wished to make an amendment to his proposal that a report was compiled on the most cost-effective way of distributing the information.
Cllr Reilly agreed: “I haven’t heard a voice against getting the information into the public domain, it’s the cost. I would be happy to second that amendment.”
Most of council backed the motion with one vote against from Alderman Devenney and an abstention from Cllr Donnelly.
Cllr Donnelly said that he felt ‘very disappointed’ by some of the discussion about costs and the environment.
“Lighting up council is a powerful message but it’s not enough,” he said.
“There are people being deliberately murdered, children are dying from inhaling gas and we are hearing parties and other councillors talking about cost and the environment. Come May they’ll shove three or four leaflets through each door and they don’t worry about the environment then.”
He also said that council should consider their ‘corporate position’ with regard to the BDS movement as the Northern Ireland Local Government Officers Superannuation Committee (NILGOSC) are still invested in Bezeq Israeli Telecom who allegedly have been sent letters by United Nations warning them about operating in the occupied West Bank.
Cllr Donnelly said: “This council is heavily investing in Bezeq Israeli Telecom; it is immoral for us to be part of that and investing in those type of companies who have a flagrant disregard for human rights.”
He said he wished to see a report on council’s investments in companies that belong to BDS lists. The motion was passed with everyone in council voting for and only Alderman Devenney voting against.
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