02 Oct 2022

Safety of Derry councillors attending public meetings to be reviewed following incident earlier month

A review is to be carried out into the safety of councillors while attending public meetings following an incident earlier month involving a Derry DUP councillor, it has emerged. The incident occurred at a meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council’s Planning Committee held on September 5, during a discussion a proposed new housing development comprising of 16 new dwellings close to the City of Derry Golf Club at the Victoria Road in Prehen. Concerns have now been raised about the conduct of members of the public who were in attendance the meeting, which was held at the council offices in Strabane, which resulted in a member of the Planning Committee, the DUP’s Hilary McClintock too afraid to leave the meeting while the members of the public remained in the building. As a result of those concerns, a ‘risk assessment’ is now being carried by the council which will look at the health and safety of councillors while attending meetings, and how a repeat of the incident can be avoided. The issue was raised at Thursday afternoon’s monthly meeting of the local council, where Sinn Fein’s Kieran McGuire raised concerns over the behaviour shown towards members of the public towards the councillors during the planning meeting. “There was a lot of councillors intimidated at that meeting by members of the public,” he said. “One councillor, I believe it was Hilary McClintock, had to get to a meeting, and she was actually scared to leave the chamber.” Cllr McGuire added that the members of the public involved had walked into the council chamber, where they began ‘staring councillors out’, “It was absolutely disgraceful and I hope it wouldn’t happen again,” he added. The Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Cllr John Boyle said that the incident was ‘a very concerning situation and scenario’ adding that his thoughts were with Alderman McClintock. Commenting, Karen Philips, Director of Environment and Regeneration with the council, told the meeting that a ‘health and safety risk assessment’ had been carried out in the wake of the incident. “Following on from that incident officers have conducted a health and safety risk assessment and we will bring those recommendations to members in terms of how council might want to try and mitigate against such incidents in the future,” she said. The independent unionist councillor Maurice Devenney said that there was an issue with the planning meetings being held in Strabane due to the size of the council chamber at the building and the lack of room for members of the public, planning agents and architects in attendance. He added that unlike Strabane, the council chamber at the Guildhall was separated from the public gallery. ‘Tight space’ Alderman Devenney added that he had spoken senior planning figures in the council about the issue, as the Strabane chamber was a ‘very tight space’. “It’s very, very open and I’ve spoken to the Head of Planning, Maura Fox about this because one of the last meetings I was at was totally packed out, and you had professional people sitting there from 1pm to 7pm,” he added. “It is a very tight area. “Here (the Guildhall) is a safe environment for the councillors and planning officers because of the distance between the council chamber and the public gallery. “In Strabane, if they start to push out, they’re nearly in the chamber.” “It needs to be looked at, the health and safety of everyone. Ms Phillips added that a report with a ‘range of options’ would be brought back and councillors could then decide ‘what they want to do’ to address the issues. However, following Alderman Devenney’s comments, Cllr McGuire raised concerns over the possibility of planning meetings being taken out of Strabane. “Could you tell me what the difference is between sitting in Strabane for six hours and sitting over there?” he asked. “Is it more comfortable to sit there? Are the Strabane seats harder?” His comments were echoed by the UUP’s Derek Hussey, who said he would be ‘wary’ of criticising Strabane to the point where ‘there was even an implied suggestion’ that all meetings of the Planning Committee would be transferred to Derry. “If that problem does exist then there are plenty of other premises where the bi-monthly meetings could be held,” Alderman Hussey said. “Folk at our end deserve as much access to planning process as people in Derry.”

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