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Motion to give sweeping new powers to censor Belfast councillors over offensive speech splits council

Belfast councillor Jolene Bunting (right) with Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, and Jayda Fransen, its' deputy leader. Picture from Twitter
John Monaghan

A MOTION to give new powers to censor Belfast councillors over offensive speech has split the council.

The amendment, which was tabled by Sinn Féin, was carried at a meeting of Belfast City Council on Wednesday despite opposition from unionists.

The vote means that the council's standing order 30, which simply states that "a member shall not impute motives or use offensive expression in reference to any member of the council", will be extended to cover "any person or section of society".

The amendment goes on to outline cases where the new order could be breached, including comments in relation to race, nationality, gender, disability and age.

Sinn Féin councillor Charlene O'Hara said that the purpose of the motion was to "strengthen the hand of the chair when it came to offensive conduct".

"It was also to remind members that we should be mindful of our conduct in the public forum. As public representatives we should be held to a higher standard," she told the BBC.

"Over the past six to eight months we have heard comments against women and disabilities, and the existing laws are not sufficient."

Alliance's Emmet McDonough-Brown supported the proposal, saying it was "disappointing that we have had to codify some of these areas where we don't wish people to stray into".

He said: "We supported it because we have seen the deterioration in the quality of debates and also the tone of some of the debates.

"We feel that there are minority groups in this city who are being targeted at a political level."

However, UUP veteran Jeff Dudgeon outlined his opposition, describing the motion as "rushed" and not "thought through".

"It is a very broad change to the standing order....one person's offensiveness is another person's virtue," he said.

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