MAGHERAFELT District Councillor Peter Bateson has rounded upon local Unionist public representatives failure to engage within planned Council led `Civic Forum`.
The Sinn Féin councillor said: “The reluctance of Unionists to take part in a Council led discussion forum aimed at assisting our communities what could be described as contentious or problematic issues which face them, is disappointing. One wonders what exactly is peculiar to the citizens of the district when collectively we cannot come around the table to attempt to come to better understandings of the sensitive issues which can still cause division within our communities.
He added: “Council officers investigated the workings of other council led civic discussion forums and brought back recommendations to Council that it would be beneficial for community cohesion that there should be the creation of such a forum within our district. In other council areas where such forum`s exist community agreement has been reached on issues such as parades, bonfires, flag protocols and any other culturally sensitive issues which any community have concerns with.
Councillor Bateson continued: “The reluctance for Unionists to engage with others is civic society is disappointing. Within council we often hear Unionists complain about their voice`s not being heard and yet when they are being given a platform for discussion they refuse to participate.
“Within council we have witnessed unionists attempt to block Sinn Féin proposals aimed at giving further protections to council workers and staff, alleging Sinn Féin `bully-boy` tactics. Their attempts to thwart Council Whistleblowing policies and Flexi-time work arrangements in addition to proposed Irish language policy have to be seen for what they are.
“Their recent withdrawal from Council discussions on Irish language provision is also disappointing and further indications of a grouping which is increasingly becoming out of touch with the progress and change that is occurring within wider society. They need to realise that dialogue, understanding and mutual agreements threaten no-one. They are doing their electorate which they claim to represent, a great disservice by not representing their views within these and other discussion forums.”
But DUP Chairman Paul McLean said that the Unionist grouping had no option but to leave the Irish policy working group because as Sinn Fein where continuing to use the policy as a political tool for their own electoral ends.
Councillor McLean explained that when Sinn Fein introduced the working group for the Irish policy Unionists were reluctant to participate and their first reaction was not to participate, however after careful consideration they decided to take part provided that Nationalists would listen and take on board the concerns of the minority unionist within the district.
“During a number of these meetings, it became very apparent that Sinn Fein had no intention of taking into consideration Unionist concerns, but wanted our attendance to simply salve their conscience and pay lip service to us. Furthermore Sinn Fein’s recent behaviour towards Unionists and our culture within the various committee’s and within the Council chamber has reiterated that the unionist position are not being considered or will they be in the future.
“If anything this policy has vindicated and verified that SF has not changed even though they would advocate they want equality for all our citizens. As unionists we firmly believe that the Irish language and the policy should be treated the same as any other language and not be given priority or be considered equal to the English language, after all Northern Ireland is British and English is our language.
“Ratepayers need to be aware that the introduction and implementation of such a policy will add additional expense to the rates and cause further hardship for many families who are already struggling to make ends meet. I’m sure that both nationalist or unionist ratepayer’s could find better ways to enhance the district that spending money foolishly on bi-lingual forms, bi-lingual signs or a bi-lingualweb site?”