Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is to call on both the EU and the UK to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol, following a heated debate on an Ulster Unionist Party motion.
The notice of motion was proposed by Ulster Unionist councillor Sam Nicholson and seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Jill Macauley.
An amendment to the motion, brought forward by DUP councillor Darryn Causby and was accepted by Councillor Nicholson “in the interest of unity”.
The amended motion reads: This council notes with concern the hugely detrimental impact the trade border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland has.
“It creates obstacles to trade where there were previously none, removes products from supermarket shelves and puts unnecessary pressure on struggling businesses and consumers.
“We further note the trade imbalance between Northern Ireland and its biggest market, Great Britain, and deem it to be wholly unacceptable.
“In view of the very serious impediments to the Northern Ireland economy being created by the NI Protocol, this Council will write to our Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland requesting the United Kingdom Government immediately applies safeguard measures to protect the integrity of the UK single market.
“Additionally, we call on the EU and UK to abandon the NI Protocol to ensure the settled constitutional position of Northern Ireland is upheld and respected in line with the Belfast Agreement.
“This Council further notes and welcomes the pending judicial review to challenge the NI Protocol’s compatibility with the Act of Union 1800 and the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 and the Belfast Agreement.”
Bringing the motion to the floor, Councillor Nicholson said the protocol is, “acting as a catalyst for potential societal disruption” and that it “undermines the basic democratic principles in Northern Ireland”.
Seconding the motion, Councillor Jill Macauley said the matter goes far beyond “symbolism or identity” and described the protocol as an “unworkable policy”.
Councillor Causby was invited to speak on the motion while giving Councillor Nicholson time to consider the amendment.
During his speech he was interrupted by Councillor Liam Mackle who raised a point of order noting Councillor Causby had gone over his allowed time for speaking.
When the Lord Mayor, Councillor Kevin Savage, asked Councillor Causby to bring what he had to say to a close, Councillor Causby stated that it was the Lord Mayor’s duty to keep time.
“With respect, it is your job to keep time and I am assuming my remarks were within that time, I am assuming you would have informed me otherwise,” said Councillor Causby.
Alliance Party group leader, Councillor Eoin Tennyson described the protocol as “a symptom of the problem, not the cause”, however, he advised there are solutions available to the present problems.
Councillor Tennyson proposed an amendment to the motion that was seconded by his party colleague, Councillor Peter Lavery.
However, Councillor Nicholson said he could not accept the proposed amendment and the chamber voted against it with only the three Alliance Party representatives voting in support .
Sinn Fein’s group leader, Councillor Liam Mackle, described the motion as “alarmist and fantastical, with very little basis in reality”.
He also accused unionists of being led by “Jim Allister and the wagging tail of Portadown and Markethill Orangemen” in their opposition to the protocol.
DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter raised a point of order noting Councillor Mackle has exceeded his allotted speaking time.
Sinn Fein councillor Keith Haughian noted the one positive that could be taken from the debate was the DUP’s move from shouting “go to the chippy”.
“Creating drama to placate anger in the Unionist community caused by poor leadership is not the way forward,” he said.
Independent Councillor Paul Berry welcomed the motion and said he was glad to see the two unionist parties in agreement.
Sinn Fein councillor Paul Duffy said he would not be supporting this motion, stating his belief that Unionists were “trying to make mountains out of mole hills”.
SDLP group leader, Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon set out his party’s opposition to the motion.
“Brexit itself is the problem it has always been about creating borders and by its very nature it creates obstacles to trade,” he said
Sinn Fein councillor Catherine Nelson said a united Ireland was now the best way forward.
Her party colleague, councillor Brona Haughey said she would not be supporting the motion and blamed any issues with supply chains on the “British Government”.
Alderman Gareth Wilson said there appeared to be a divide along representational lines within the chamber.
“I would suggest once business people start contacting the other parties, the tune may well change and only then will we have a more joined up approach,” said the DUP representative.
Sinn Fein councillor Garath Keating said he had a “big degree of sympathy” for unionists who voted against Brexit but asked those who voted in favour what they thought was going to happen.
Before Councillor Keating brought his remarks to a close, DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter raised a point of order noting the length of his speech.
Councillor Darryn McNally said he could not believe what he had heard “from unionism”.
During his comments he was interrupted by Councillor Paul Berry who highlighted bombs set off by the IRA in Markethill, Portadown and Lurgan by the IRA.
The meeting then descended into a shouting match between the two elected representatives.
When order was restored, SDLP councillor Ciaran Toman said he felt it was important to make clear “the protocol is because of the hard Brexit unionist parties supported.”
DUP group leader, Councillor Mark Baxter described Sinn Fein’s approach as being driven by its “anti-British perspective”.
Wrapping up the debate, Councillor Nicholson expressed his hope a workable solution to the problems could be found soon.
The motion was carried with all 22 member of the DUP and UUP voting in favour of it while the 19 members of the Alliance Party, SDLP and Sinn Fein voted against it.