AT the annual general meeting of Down District Council held on Monday 23rd May, the nominations took place for the offices of the Council and its 10 committees.
It was a generally a good-natured affair as councillors got through the business of the nominations to the committees which drive the Council business.
The outgoing chairman SDLP Councillor Eamonn O’Neill welcomed all the councillors to the chamber and said that he hoped that “we would work in as collegiate a manner as possible, and that we achieve all of our aims and targets.”
As general remarks, he welcomed the Tidy NI awards made to Down District Council for Tyrella, Minerstown and Newcastle beaches… saying Down won three of the four main awards, an excellent achievement.
He also announced that Balynahinch has been awarded a Public Realm scheme through the DSD to refurbish the town centre. He said, when this scheme is finished, it will complete our three main towns of Newcastle, Downpatrick and Ballynahinch. This work resulted from the vision initially set out by former DSD Minister Margaret Ritchie.” The good news was welcomed by all of the councillors.
When Councillor O’Neill stood down and handed over the chains to the new Council chairman, Councillor Dermot Curran, the different parties all paid his a tribute fro his work over the past year. DUP leader Councillor William Dick said, “Eamonn has worked in a dignified, fair, and equitable manner, and as our first citizen did an excellent job. He was professional and diplomatic in his manner, and handled the potential for havoc at the St Patrick’s Parade well.”
UUP Councillor Dessie Patterson said, “He has been a sterling leader, giving us guidance and doing good work in the community.”
A more cautious Sinn Féin Councillor Eamonn Mac Con Midhe said regarding the flags issue at the St Patrick Parade, “I expect the good relations committee will reveal a lot at a later stage.”
SDLP Councillor John Doris said, “We would like to complement him on a successful year. There has been a lot fulfilled. Eamonn handled the business of Council in a very cautious way so everyone had the opportunity of being heard. He has spent a huge amount of time at various functions promoting a good image fro Down District Council. We thank him for his energy and ingenuity in dealing with Council affairs.”
Green Party Councillor Cadogan Enright said, “I wish Councillor O’Neill all the best and look forward to working with new Chairman Councillor Curran.”
Patrick Clarke, new Alliance Councillor, said, “I am very aware of the work that Eamonn has done over this past term and he has been very professional attending a wide range of events, and I congratulate him for that.”
Terry Andrews, new Independent Councillor said, “I look forward to working with Eamonn in a personal and professional capacity.”
In responding the the Councillors’ comments, Councillor O’Neill said, “The role of Council chairman is becoming increasingly full-time, and we have to start to think of that in the future. Three events stood out in my term, the Down Business Awards, the citizen event for 6th formers, and the annual staff awards recognizing staff right across the Council. But I would also like to thank our Chief Executive John Dummigan and his senior management team for the invaluable work that they have done, and the marketing Department for their professionalism. And a special thank you to Clare Keenan, who has assisted me over the past year.”
Councillor Dermot Curran, on taking over as new Council Chairman, said, “It is a great honour to be selected as Chairman of the Council and I will do everything in my power to support the work of the Council, and I look forward to working with all of the Councillors. I am particularly interested in job creation and enterprise, and hope you all share in this important area as we move through the next year.”
Over the next four years, after the SDLP chairmanship, Sinn Féin will take the reins, followed again by the SDLP then the DUP.
Sinn Féin Councillor Liam Johnston took over as Vice Chairman and added, “I will do everything I can to support our Chairman Councillor Dermot Curran and working with the people of the District. Today we heard the good news how Minister Poots reversed the decision about Altnagelvin Hospital. I just hope he backs the health campaign in Down District. In our District we need better facilities for the footballers in Dunleath Park. There may may be hard times ahead but we need all of your support, and we should also be able to enjoy ourselves.”
South Down MP Welcomes Public Realm Scheme For Ballynahinch
SDLP MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie, speaking the morning after the AGM, welcomed the news that a Public Realm scheme may be commissioned for Ballynahinch.
Ms Ritchie said, “During my time as Minister I was successful in initiating Public Realm schemes across Northern Ireland, most notably in Downpatrick, Newcastle, Kilkeel and Warrenpoint.
“Before my time in office ended, I also laid the foundations of a public realm scheme to be carried out in Ballynahinch. There can be no doubt that Ballynahinch has been neglected in terms of investment over the past number of years. There are too many businesses struggling, and derelict office and retail space, in what was once a vibrant market town.
“I am pleased work is to commence on an economic appraisal on Ballynahinch with a view to constructing a public realm scheme. I trust the new Social Development Minister will see fit to sign off on this scheme as soon as is practicable.”
Enright Says Committee Selection Process Is ‘Undemocratic’
Council meetings are places sometimes of disagreement, and Green Party Councillor Cadogan Enright pitched his single voice against the main parties in complaining about the selection procedure. As the committee chairs and nominations were unfolding, he challenged the basis of the apportioning of places under the d’Hondt system, saying that himself and the other two new councillors Terry Andrews (Independent) and Patrick Clarke (Alliance) were under-represented.
This claim was met with stiff opposition, and Council Chief Executive John Dumigan explained that it would take a successful resolution before Council to change the nomination procedure. Mr Dummigan also said that after taking legal opinion, he established that the relevant independent councillors were required to establish their intention to group together prior to the Council local election itself.
Councillor Enright quoted from the Northern Ireland Local Government (NILGA) constitution for procedures for nominating to NILGA, which he deemed as good practice:
“Smaller parties (those with less than 2% of the vote in the most recent Northern Ireland local government elections) and independents may be grouped together and, for purposes of proportionality, regarded as one party. The council may ask those so grouped together to nominate their representative.” (Schedule 1-Representation.) He said, “I just think this system we have does not broadly reflect the interests of all the Councillors in the chamber and it is undemocratic. It favours the big parties.”
The NILGA document also says, added Councillor Enright, “In selecting representatives each Council shall ensure that its representation on the association broadly reflects the party pattern of th eCoujcil. This may be achieved by the use of the d’Hondt system, proportionality or by using any other fair and equitable system.”
‘Positions On Down District Council.
Councillor Dermot Curran – Down District Council Chairman
Councillor Liam Johnston – Down District Council Vice Chairman
Strategic Policy and Resources Committee
Councillor Burgess – Chairman
Councillor O’Boyle – Vice Chairman
Councillors Enright, Mac Con Midhe, Doris, Dick, McAleenan, Coogan and ONeill
Recreation & Community Services Committee
Councillor Coogan – Chairman
Councillor Burns – Vice Chairman
Councillors O’Boyle, W Clarke, McGrath, Andrews, P Craig, ONeill and Walker
Environmental Services Committee
Councillor P Craig – Chairman
Councillor Dick – Vice Chairman
Councillors Lyons, McCarthy, Enright, Johnston, O’Boyle, O Neill and G Craig
Cultural and Economic Development Committee
Councillor Doris – Chairman
Councillor Mac Con Midhe – Vice Chairman
Councillors Curran, P Clarke, G Craig, Patterson, Johnston, Toman and McAleenan
Building and Estates Committee
Councillor Toman – Chairman
Councillor McCarthy – Vice Chairman
Councillors Burns, Burgess, W Clarke, P Clarke, G Craig, Patterson and McAleenan
External Affairs Committee
Councillor Walker – Chairman
Councillor Lyons – Vice Chairman
Councillors McGrath, Andrews, Mac Con Midhe, Burgess, ONeill, Coogan and Toman
Councillor Mac Con Midhe – Chairman
Councillor G Craig – Vice Chairman
Councillors Enright, Doris and Toman
Councillor O’Boyle – Chairman
Councillor McCarthy – Vice-Chairman
Councillors O Neill, Dick, Patterson and Coogan
Councillors O’Boyle and ONeill were nominated for Convergence Programme Management Board
Councillor Burgess – Chairman
Councillor W Clarke – Vice Chairman
Councillors P Clarke, Burns, O Neill, G Craig and Lyons
Disability Awareness Working Group
Councillor O’Boyle – Chairman
Councillor Andrews – Vice Chairman
Councillors McCarthy, Johnston, McAleenan, P Craig, Coogan and Walker