Local parties split ranks on free school meals

THE breakdown of the voting result by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council around free school meals has shown not only political but internal party divisions, with Sinn Fein and the Ulster Unionists split three ways.
The vote came on the back of statistics provided by the Education Authority (EA) which indicated that there were 5,644 applications for free school meals in the district, of which 3,397 were issued.
Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh, Independent, pictured below, felt the statistics “confirm a strong desire for this”.
He continued: “Some English councils, cash-strapped as they may be, are affording free school meals for all. Why doesn’t Stormont do this, considering the obvious demand that exists which is not being satisfied.”
He proposed writing back to the Minister of Finance, Conor Murphy, as well as Minister for Education, Michelle McIlveen , requesting “consideration for all children to receive free school meals”.
He added: “It is vitally important young people have adequate nutrition. This is probably one of the easiest ways to address real poverty.”
Seconding, Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer noted Minister Murphy has yet to receive a bid from Minister McIlveen, and said: “We should encourage her to do so. We need to keep the pressure on.
“The percentage of our population suffering as a result of quite draconian measures is really concerning. It is perhaps much bigger than we were aware of.”
However, while Sinn Fein’s Councillor Siobhan Currie entirely supported free school meals and agreed Minister McIlveen should be contacted, she opposed writing back to her party colleague, Minister Murphy.
“He has made it clear this is a matter for the Department of Education. It’s not his job to do everybody’s else’s.
“I wholeheartedly support free school meals and we should fight for them, but this must be directed to the right place.”
Councillor Eamon Keenan, Independent, said: “Send it to whatever ministers it needs to go to.”
A suggestion by Councillor Currie to split the proposal and write only to Minister McIlveen was rejected.
Of 29 members who voted, 24 were in favour, with three against, and six abstentions.
Despite this being a ‘recorded vote’ whereby each member’s individual vote is noted against their name, the breakdown was not known until the minutes and agenda of the main council meeting were published.
This produced some unusual results, with an overall total of 20 votes in favour, three against and six abstentions.
All Democratic Unionists, the SDLP and Independents in attendance supported the proposal, as did Stephen Donnelly of the Alliance Party.
However, while the majority of Ulster Unionists voted in favour, Councillor Howard Thornton voted against, and Councillor Bert Wilson abstained.
Sinn Fein meanwhile were also divided, with Councillor Sheamus Greene in support, while Councillor Anthony Feeney and Councillor Chris McCaffrey voted against.
Councillor Siobhan Currie, Councillor Anne-Marie Donnelly, Councillor Catherine Kelly, Councillor Barry McElduff and Councillor Thomas O’Reilly all abstained.

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