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Newry 2020 to present to ERT Committee as Albert Basin Park row continues

The Newry 2020 campaign group behind the vision of a 15-acre park on the Albert Basin will make a presentation to the council’s Enterprise Regeneration and Tourism (ERT) Committee ahead of its meeting at 5pm today (Monday 9th October).

The delivery of this evening’s presentation was already agreed on before last Monday night’s full council meeting where a debate on the motion requesting the council’s commitment to a 15-acre community park project on the Albert Basin site in Newry was stifled by Newry Mourne and Down District Chairperson Roisin Mulgrew. 

The motion put forward by Alliance Cllr Patrick Brown, SDLP Cllr Gary Stokes, Ulster Unionist Councillor David Taylor and Independent Cllr Jarlath Tinnelly was the last item on the agenda at the monthly council meeting and over 20 supporters of the 15 Acre park campaign had packed into the public gallery to listen to proceedings. 

During a highly contentious and heated exchange in council chambers, the Chairperson diverted the motion to a sub-group of the Strategy Policy and Resources Committee after the DUP and Sinn Fein voted to block a debate on the issue.  A war of words broke out in the aftermath of the meeting and continued throughout last week – with Councillor Mulgrew claiming that she was subjected to “abusive and aggressive behaviour” from her fellow councillors and members of the public during the council sitting. 

“I was verbally attacked and harassed for performing my legal duties and facilitating agreed Council standing orders,” she said in a statement released two hours after the meeting.

“As I left the building I had to run the gauntlet to escape harassment from members of the public gallery. This behaviour is despicable, and is unprecedented in the modern history of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council,” she added

Her claims were strenuously denied by councillors Pete Byrne and Patrick Brown, who urged the public to listen to the audio recording of the meeting to judge for themselves what took place. 

On Thursday morning all three councillors took to the airwaves in an interview with Q Radio’s Kevin McAllister.  It too descended into acrimony when presenter Kevin accused Ms Mulgrew of shouting at her fellow councillors during the meeting and branded the manner in which she closed down her colleagues as “inappropriate”.   During the interview, both Mr Brown and Mr Byrne insisted that it was at the Chairperson’s discretion to suspend standing orders and allow the motion to be debated at the full council meeting while Ms Mulgrew countered that her actions were in “complete compliance with legislation.”

The Sinn Fein Councillor was repeatedly asked to clarify the party’s stance on the Albert Basin Park and whether it fully supported the motion for the 15 acre park at the city centre site. The NMDDC Chairperson insisted that Sinn Fein “will support a park in Newry based on the sound public consultation and reports from the statutory agencies involved.”

Speaking to The Examiner about the debacle, SDLP Slieve Gullion Councillor Pete Byrne called on the DUP and Sinn Fein to clarify why they are against a 15-Acre Park on the Albert Basin. 

Mr Byrne said it is clear that the public are “outraged” at how the issue was handled at the full council meeting and added that it was time “to set aside the false accusations and the bickering over standing orders. We need openness and transparency from Sinn Fein and the DUP.”

The SDLP Councillor maintained that to go against a 15-Acre Albert Basin Park would be “to betray the people of Newry.”

“A petition with 11,000 signatories was presented on Monday night, a clear message for us to deliver. If certain political parties were unable to meet this demand, they must be honest with the public and state their reasons why,” he said.

“I would go further and say if Sinn Fein and the DUP had any respect for their mandates, they would publicly disclose their reasons for going against a 15-Acre Albert Basin Park. Both parties have denied the people of Newry an open debate on this and it is now time for an explanation. Although we were informed that Sinn Fein in particular were not convinced that a 15-Acre Park was needed, they were not willing to discuss the motion ahead of Monday night.”

Mr Byrne said his party “will not rest until a 15-Acre Park is realised and we will continue to fight against attempts to shut down debate at local council.”

“Whilst the decisions made on Monday night shuts out the media and public, we as a party will endeavour to keep local activists and the public updated with any developments in relation to this issue.”