The group leaders of Mid Ulster District Council’s DUP and UUP contingent have both questioned the council’s desire to spend £16,000 of ratepayer money on the establishment of a working group to promote discussion on the topic of Irish unity.
Council’s Chair and DUP group leader, Councillor Paul McLean and UUP group leader, Councillor Walter Cuddy both expressed their dissatisfaction with the potential expenditure at a meeting of the council’s policy and resources committee on Wednesday.
At the meeting members of the committee were provided with an update on the local authority’s efforts to establish the working group.
Members were reminded the decision to create a working group and begin consultation with rate payers and community and business representatives on the issues relating to constitutional change was taken in May last year following a somewhat controversial motion brought before the council by Sinn Fein Councillor John McNamee.
Given the nature of the motion, council officers determined the formation of the working group should be referred to the council’s corporate good relations working group to consider any potential negative good relations impacts.
The good relations working group first discussed the issue on September 13. It was agreed members would consider the scope of the motion to open discussion up across all communities in the district, aspire to make the proposed consultation process as inclusive as possible and carry out consultation engagement broadly in line with the community planning themes.
At a further meeting on November 1, members agreed to seeks professional support to help practically implement the motion and a specification and secure quotations from suitably qualified/experienced providers in order to practically implement the requirements of the motion.
It is understood quotations will be sought in February 2022 with workshops being delivered in the spring of this year.
With regards to the cost, officers believe £16,000 will be required from the council which will be met from within existing budgets/resources.
The report explains the £16,000 will be broken down into a £6,000 management fee and a workshop promotion and delivery budget that could see £6,000 spent on speaker costs; £2,000 spent on PR and marketing costs and £2,000 spent on digital set up.
The report also notes a preliminary equality screening has been carried out by the corporate policy and equality officer and notes a full screening will be developed prior to seeking a quotation for the delivery of the workshop.
Commenting on the matter, Councillor Paul McLean said the DUP are opposed to the motion and expressed the belief that “in today’s climate, £16,000 could be better spent”.
Ulster Unionist Party group leader, Councillor Walter Cuddy said he “totally agreed” with Councillor McLean and questioned the work of the good relations working group.
“There has been so much money lost to this council through Covid and we are trying to cover the gaps and provide services to the ratepayers which we have not always been able to do,” he said.
“Now, as we approach the striking of the rates, we will probably be looking to increase them again. Any ratepayer this past year will note facilities have been closed and a lot of services have not been provided. People will be thinking why should I be paying extra, then they see something like this.
“As a party we don’t attend the good relations working group, there is no benefit to us in it and yet it is the forum that decides what we do on this topic.
“Should somebody on the good relations working group not be asking if bringing an issue like this forward at this time could impact good relations? Nowhere within the report can I see an officer or anybody ask this question.
“I am just so disappointed that we can spend our ratepayers’ hard-earned money on this. The UUP has no confidence in the whole process and will not have anything to do with it.”