The final item of business on the Brexit Committee agenda ahead of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Annual General Meeting, descended into chaos after the Chair, Councillor Paul Blake, SDLP allowed a member to raise the issue of Gaza under Any Other Business.
Having originally indicated the matter was to be kept short, Councillor Blake tried to keep it to a mention only, without discussion, but was ultimately required to go to a vote.
Councillor Emmet McAleer, Independent expressed concern at the United States at that stage blocking adoption of a Security Council statement which was: “Calling for a halt to the Israeli violence in Palestine … It talks of the de-escalation of violence in respect for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, especially children.
“It voices concerns at the crisis in Gaza and evictions of Palestinian families, and opposing unilateral actions likely to further escalate tensions.”
He continued: “At a previous meeting we talked of the ongoing slaughter, the genocide that’s being doled out by Israel, funded by the United States.
“We learned President Joe Biden, who we had so much hope for but is delivering so little, has approved another $735 million in special munitions weapons to Israel.
“This is facilitating and permitting state-sanctioned violence and ethnic cleansing. While Ireland is a member of the Security Council, unfortunately the US has the veto.”
Councillor McAleer proposed contacting the Irish government to show: “This is not in our name and action is taken with sanctions against Israel.
“Failing anything working, to date, we call for the expulsion of the Israeli Ambassador. We should also write to every council in Ireland to seek their backing.”
The Chair said no discussion was permitted and while a number of members indicated a wish to speak, he added: “I don’t want to get into anything. It’s the last meeting of the Brexit Committee, and this thing could descend.”
Seconding, Independent Councillor Eamon Keenan tried to suggest inclusions, but the Chair stated: “I made myself clear. There will be no discussion.
“I let this in as it’s the last meeting, but I’m not having this descend into tit-for-tat. Certainly not. Nobody else is coming in on this item.”
He moved to close the meeting; however, Councillor Victor Warrington, Ulster Unionist, pointed out: “You took the proposal and seconder but didn’t ask did everybody agree or were there any other proposals.
“This is a very important issue, and some of those who put their hands up had contributions to make.
“This was brought under Further Business and is not relevant to this committee, so other individuals should be heard.”
The Chair accepted this, and on asking if all in the chamber were in agreement, was met with mixed voices of approval and dissent, with Democratic Unionist Councillor Errol Thompson remarking: “This has been bounced on us as usual.”
Councillor Bernice Swift, Independent also suggested inclusions, commenting: “I feel very strongly that Ireland and the UK can play their important roles.”
She referenced the Chair seeing her wearing a Palestinian scarf the previous day when she “prayed at Mass for intervention for peace and a solution in the Middle East”.
She continued: “I am very passionate about this. It is a very difficult subject, but we need to hold perpetrators to account. Condemnation letters aren’t sufficient to stop the cycle of violence. We must recognise the state of Palestine.”
While the Chair agreed to go to a vote, he said: “This was not a Brexit-related matter, and looking back, I shouldn’t have permitted it when I knew it was going to descend into this.”
Ulster Unionist Councillor Alex Baird said there was the option to rule the issue out of order, but Councillor Swift countered, this stating the proposal had been accepted, which was echoed by Councillor McAleer.
But referring to a recent instance when a vote went through without any opposition being expressed, Councillor Baird challenged the Chair, stating: “This is completely undemocratic. You’ve allowed a proposal and an amendment, but you won’t allow any other comment.
“You have only two options – either rule it out of order, or allow people to speak if there’s going to be any democracy here.”
The Chair was “tempted to rule out of order” as it had become divisive, but decided the best course of action was to go to a vote.
This saw him differ with SDLP colleagues, who voted in support, while he went against.
Beyond that, it was a clear split down party lines, with the matter passing by 15 votes to 12.