Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Byrne calls for ‘transparent’ debate on formation of Council Health Committee

SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne has called for openness and transparency in the process of the formation of a Health Committee at Newry, Mourne and Down District Council after new proposals downgraded the proposed Committee to a Health Working Group.

Commenting, Councillor Byrne said: “As Councillors, we have a duty, not only to speak, but to act on behalf of public opinion, to ensure what has been called for following the Daisy Hill protests is delivered.  Council unanimously passed a motion in May to establish a Health Committee, a statutory committee with decision making powers to address the growing concerns regarding the health provision across the district.  Since May, many conversations have been had regarding the new structures, including talk of working groups, which would be presented to Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee for debate.”

However, at a committee meeting held last week, Councillors were asked to agree to the formation of working groups as opposed to a full committee, he claimed.

“While I fully appreciate the arguments put forward for working groups, I do not agree with the reasons given on why a committee is out of the question,” Mr Byrne said.

“How we deviated from the motion passed to form a Health Committee to the tabled proposal needs serious clarification. We certainly can’t be populist with ideas where we are promising the public something and then behind closed doors we’re changing it for unknown reasons. This is why I have called for an open and transparent debate so that we as Councillors can make an informed decision whilst being honest with the public about how we arrived at this decision.”

The councillor says he does not accept that there is any issue with representation on a committee “considering that all parties have agreed to take politics out of health”. “We can negotiate both the political and non-political make-up of a new committee with ease.  A recent statement however, has stated that ‘it was made clear to Councillors that the Health Committee motion passed was beyond the powers of the council’, that certainly is news to me.  At no point during my discussions with officials has this ever been mentioned.  If Councillors are moving to rule out a committee then we must be absolutely sure on the reasons why. To date, I have received no information to convince me of this,” he added.