An Alliance councillor has accused Sinn Fein of trying to “silence” minority parties and independents after two notices of motion brought forward to the monthly meeting were referred back to committee.
Alliance councillor Patrick Brown had brought his ‘Suicide Down to Zero’ motion for debate on Monday, whilst a second motion had been tabled on climate change emergency.
The former advocated that a new small grants scheme to fund projects specifically dealing with mental health and suicide should be introduced across the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council area.
He was using his motion to lambast the powers-that-be for not having in place a proper and promised suicide strategy.
But Councillor Brown later lambasted Sinn Fein, saying neither motion was given a hearing at Monday’s monthly meeting and adding: “It’s going to be a long four years.”
The Alliance representative said: “These are both vitally important issues which were part of my election platform and are frequently brought up as priorities for ratepayers. Both motions included tangible, practical actions for how NMD could play a direct role in addressing these issues locally.
“Unfortunately, the Sinn Fein chair chose to refer both motions to committees, whilst allowing one of his party colleague’s motions to be heard I may add!
“This, I feel, has become a tactic used by council chairs to minimise the amount of open and transparent debate that can be afforded to notices of motion.
“Motions are one of the best ways for smaller parties and independents to be heard and represent the views of their constituents, yet both of these motions were referred to committees that I do not sit on and therefore cannot vote on – in fact I can only speak on them with the permission of the chair.
“This is a clear attempt to silence minority voices in council, carrying on from previous votes by all four bigger parties last month to exclude us from key council groupings. This is no doubt a result of the stellar electoral performance enjoyed by Alliance and independent voices across the district in the last election.
“I don’t think those who backed me in the council elections voted to have vital issues like this tossed into committees outside the full scrutiny and discussion of the council chamber. Credit to the UUP, DUP and most of the SDLP for agreeing that both motions should be heard tonight and attempting to overturn the chair’s decision, which was rejected by SF.”
Councillor Brown’s suicide motion had sought the backing of others to bring forward practical measures to try and stem the tide of the growing number of people taking their own lives, a move aimed at “combating the high prevalence of suicide across our district”.
His motion – if passed when heard at a future committee – would see council “commit to closer partnership working with local mental health and suicide prevention charities and will establish a suicide prevention working group with a dedicated council officer responsible, meeting quarterly with representation from all party groupings and the necessary resources to develop and implement a strategy to deliver the commitment of bringing suicides in the district down to zero”.
Councillor Brown asks that: “The council will establish a new small grants scheme within the existing financial assistance programme to fund projects specifically dealing with mental heath and suicide in the district, the criteria and performance of which will be drawn up by the working group and monitored by the Active and Healthy Communities Directorate.
“Council will also write to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health lamenting the abject failure of the Department to implement the Protect Life 2 strategy, and that this strategy should have been signed off regardless of the absence of an Executive given its vital life-saving and non-contentious nature.”
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