Fermanagh and Omagh Council – an undemocratic farce

Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has again descended into farce. At the latest meeting, the DUP Chair has muted left-wing councillors. First Donal O’Cofaigh, Cross-Community Labour Councillor and Militant Left member, was muted. Then it was anti-goldmining councillor Emmet McAleer. Independent Eamonn Keenan indicated he wished to speak, but wasn’t even called in.

This was at a meeting where Sinn Féin and the DUP rammed through a 2.72% increase in the rates.The SDLP enthusiastically supported. The DUP Chair only called councillors from the mainstream parties during the discussion.

Donal and Emmet were not called until after Council voted through the increase. Calling in Donal, DUP Chair Errol Thompson told him “and I’ll just remind you that the vote has been taken overwhelmingly.” He reminded Donal he only had three minutes.

Donal said he wanted to protest that “we were completely excluded there from having any input into probably the most important…” At that point, the Chair interrupted: “Can I just stop you there. You weren’t excluded.” As Donal resumed, the Chair spoke over him. “Our voices weren’t heard,” Donal protested. “There’s no public debate on it,” the Chair interrupted.

“We were completely excluded there from probably the most important decision the Council will take in this next year,” O’Cofaigh said. “Could I just stop you there, you weren’t excluded,” the Chair said. Donal restarted: he said “Ratepayers out there” till he was interrupted again, and threatened with being muted. Donal replied: “You already muted us. How are you going to mute us again?”

The chair replied “If you continue” and muted Donal. He then called in SDLP Councillor Mary Garrity, who said on a point of order: “Nobody has been excluded. We had a workshop, everyone was invited… And for people to come into this chamber and say they weren’t allowed to speak up or be included is very disingenuous to the officers, to the other members of this chamber…”

After Garrity spoke, the Chair said: “So, Councillor O’Cofaigh, if you have a complaint to make, you know the procedure to go by.”

The Chair then called in Emmet “very quickly.”

Emmet pointed out several councillors had been called to speak more than once. As Emmet tried to speak on, the Chair said: “Councillor McAleer, that’s my decision, it’s been fairly done.” As Emmet continued to speak the Chair said “Councillor McAleer, you’ll be excluded.”

Emmet was then allowed to contribute two whole sentences: “No – you are completely excluding the smaller parties and independents. Decisions were taken at workshops, not publicly, open, or accountable.” Again the Chair interrupted, but Emmet got in “which wasn’t possible for people who are in full-time employment” before interruption resumed.

Then the Chair said: “Mute this councillor. Mute him.” Emmet was cut off and the Chair ended the meeting.

This is how Sinn Féin and the DUP agree to exclude any dissenting voices on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council. This time they used that power to increase the rates burden on working-class householders and small businesses.

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