August 8, 2014 11:00 am
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Unionists stage walk out during ‘equality’ debate in Townhall



Debbie Coyle

Sinn Fein Debbie Coyle proposed the motion

THE five remaining Ulster Unionist members staged a walk-out at this month’s meeting during a Sinn Fein ‘equality’ notice of motion.

Debbie Coyle’s proposal called on all those involved in civic leadership to join with the council to champion inclusion and diversity, and to break through sectoral barriers. Ms Coyle, who was elected ‘diversity champion’ by her Townhall colleagues, admitted afterwards to being ‘gobsmacked’ at the walk-out.

It was led by the former chairman of the council, Alex Baird.

Quoting statistics for the year 2012/13 for sectarian offences in Fermanagh, he pointed to a decrease in the total number of offences, with sectarian offences down from 19 to 9 and racist offences down from 13 to 8.

He commented: “Basically, there is no proof or figures available to support the allegation (of a growing number of hate crimes). Having said all that, we are not prepared to give credence to the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein who, only yesterday, organised a sectarian, criminal terrorist supporting parade in Derrylin.

“Therefore, we do not intend to participate any further in debate on this badly researched motion.”
Mr Baird and his four colleagues then gathered up their papers and left the chamber.

Councillor Coyle said the walk-out ‘demonstrates why we’re having this motion’, and she referred to a young Muslim woman in Enniskillen who experienced racism on a daily basis.

Her party colleague, Ruth Lynch said she hadn’t intended speaking to the motion: “I had assumed it would have the unanimous support of the council. I am absolutely flabbergasted that seven or eight (3 DUP members had left earlier) members have left before the discussion of this matter.

“This is council policy we are talking about.”

The motion was them voted on and was carried by 12 votes for with one abstention, that of the DUP chairman, Bert Johnston.

Speaking afterwards, Councillor Coyle disputed the figures quoted by Mr Baird.

“There is a rise in hate crime, whether it is against LGBT (lesbians, gays) or against people because of race or religion. That I know through women I met in Fermanagh, but they will not report it because they are afraid to come forward and complain. The leadership isn’t there.”

Barry Doherty, who seconded the notice of motion, said he had to chastise two boys he heard on the street name calling.

In a statement afterwards. Councillor Baird said his party ‘supports and endorses’ the principles enshrined in the Sinn Fein motion. But, the party took issue with the allegation of an increase in hate crimes.

Mr Baird rejected the notion that he and his colleagues had staged a walk-out.

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