Cllr Cadogan Enright said, “I welcome the public apology to myself from SDLP’s Cllr Craig as a way of defusing the public row between SF and the SDLP that triggered recent headlines in the Down Recorder. That this public row resulted in the unnecessary presence of two police cars outside a meeting attended by so many members of the District Policing Partnership brings no one any credit. I, for one, would rather see those cars deployed dealing with the insidious criminal conspiracy of drug dealing that plagues our towns and destroys the lives of our young people and their families.
This unacceptable row in council started at Septembers meeting when I challenged the SDLP for delaying elements of the campaign to save the Down Hospital, and trying to exclude the other parties and the Down Community Health Committee from a cross-community campaign on the Down Hospital. I highlighted that the SDLP had voted down a cross-party motion written by myself and representatives of SF, DUP and the SDLP in June. The motion was aimed at obtaining expert help to assist the cross-community hospital campaign. Then, 3 months later, the SDLP proposed essentially the same motion themselves.
Several SDLP councillors piled in and made some choice personal comments, but Cllr Craig topped the lot shocking people in other parties who are normally pretty unshockable. It must be said that some SDLP councillors clearly did not agree with what was going on, and in particular Cllr Fitzpatrick stood out as a real gentleman and has been personally abused for doing so.
It would have been a simple matter for the council Chair to point out to his party colleague Cllr Craig that he had breached the “code of conduct for councillors in NI” and ask for an apology. It was hypocritical for the SDLP Chairman Eamonn O’Neill not to address the matter particularly after the SDLP insisted on an apology in the Assembly last week from the DUP’s Jonathan Bell for making much milder remarks about the SDLP MLA Conall McDevitt.
I attempted to make the peace by accepting a private apology from Cllr Craig, but SF councillors felt that public misconduct requires public apology. It was hardly surprising that Sinn Fein refused to let the issue of racism against Irish people pass, and it was an unnecessary ‘own goal’ by the SDLP.
Between the September and October meetings I had written to Cllr O’Neill saying “It seems obvious to me that if you, as chair, allow the council to descend into a bear-pit of violent and vulgar exchanges, you will bring the council chamber into disrepute”.
I suggested that council had two choices;
1. Ignore this event and let the situation get worse over the next few months OR
2. Get an apology, and agree that the code of conduct should apply to all council meetings in future.
I also suggested that we build a reference to the code of conduct into standing orders, with a penalty of the chair being allowed to request a councilor to apologise or withdraw from the meeting. Unfortunately the chairman O’Neill ignored these sensible suggestions.
Since that time I have received reassurances from the council Chief Executive that the legal team we share with Belfast City Council is investigating how the “code of conduct” for councillors in NI can be built into standing orders, and ensure that this sort of situation can be prevented in future, avoiding this sort of breakdown amongst public representatives in Down again. I call on all local elected representatives to support this approach.”