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Backlash after DUP councillor speaks of benefit of being part of UK during Covid


A discussion around celebrating the Northern Ireland Centenary descended into bitter backlash after a Unionist member of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council contended that those opposed to the initiative needed to be reminded of the benefits that being part of the United Kingdom brought during the Covid pandemic.

Councillor Keith Elliott, Democratic Unionist, was speaking in support of a UK government initiative to illuminate civic buildings as part of ‘A Moment Of Reflection’.

When this was vehemently objected to by many political opponents, Councillor Elliott remarked: “People need to be reminded what benefits they got during Covid as a result of being part of the UK.”

Sinn Fein’s Councillor Thomas O’Reilly felt there was nothing to be grateful for, as “Covid, compounded with Brexit, brought nothing but hardship”.

Also hitting back, Independent Councillor Emmet McAleer branded Councillor Elliott’s comments as “absolutely disgraceful”.

He said: “What we got was a reckless move by Boris Johnson and his associates to drive herd immunity.

“It was only through the actions of local people and communities who kept children off school and actually took the lead and caused the lockdown in the first place [that there was a different approach taken to the pandemic].

“They [the Prime Minister and his Cabinet] were happy to kill as many people as possible that they thought they could do without.

“We got over 100,000 dead. We have the NHS on its knees, and being sold off and touted to private interests.

“We have nothing beneficial whatsoever from the Tory party and associates who are giving multi-million pound contacts to their friends and family members.

“To think anything beneficial has come from any association with the London government over the [past] 12-18 months takes a lot of stretching of imagination to be realistic.”

However, Councillor Robert Irvine, Ulster Unionist, disagreed with these remarks.

He said: “If I’ve read Councillor McAleer right, he’s accusing the Tory government of mass murder.

“I cannot be associated with comments like that. He either withdraws them, or makes them personal.

“They are not comments coming from the Chamber, and I will not be recorded as agreeing with him.

“This matter should not have been divisive and, unfortunately, some people are completely using language that is totally uncalled for in what is supposed to be a shared community, going forward.”

Addressing Councillor McAleer directly, he concluded: “Withdraw your comments.”

Chair, Councillor Errol Thompson, said he had stressed the meeting should be conducted with respect, adding: “Some comments have gone beyond the pale.”

He invited Councillor McAleer to respond, who stated: “I don’t feel I’ve crossed any lines.

“I’d like to know what, specifically, Councillor Irvine has objection to, because a lot of it is public knowledge and publicly documented – indeed, from Boris Johnson’s right-hand man, Dominic Cummings.”

However, the Chair advised: “We are not taking any lessons from Mr. Cummings in this Chamber, and we will have a constructive debate.

“We don’t need to be rubbing anyone’s nose in the dirt. We may not agree on a lot of things, but let’s keep it respectful.”

The initiative to illuminate civic buildings was ultimately rejected by a majority vote.

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