Downpatrick constituents demand apology from SDLP councillor Colin McGrath over `views of local people' remarks
AN SDLP MLA has insisted he has "no problem with anyone who has chosen to live in our community" after accusing a councillor of 'breezing in' to Downpatrick with views he would rather hear from "local people".
South Down assembly member Colin McGrath made his statement after 17 constituents - including Irish News cartoonist Ian Knox - demanded an apology in an open letter following his remarks which appeared to slight independent councillor Cadogan Enright.
Mr Enright, an independent member of Newry Mourne and Down Council, lived abroad with his family between 1960 and 1972 while his parents were missionaries.
In remarks carried in last week's Down Recorder, Mr McGrath took issue with what he has branded "negative politics".
"I think for councillor Enright to breeze into our town and tell us it is not in good shape is a bit rich. I would rather listen to the views of local people than those from outside our area," he said.
This statement outraged the letter writers, who describe themselves as "citizens of Downpatrick and Lecale born elsewhere in Europe", with a geographic spread stretching from Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Omagh to Switzerland, Germany and Poland.
They said his comments "do not reflect standards expected of those in public office and are discriminatory" and demanded "a public apology".
"It is offensive to us, residents of Lecale, who, as tax paying professionals, make a positive contribution to the social and economic life in this area.
"The last census showed that of the 18,500 residents of Lecale, 2,500 were born outside of Northern Ireland and a further 2,500 were born elsewhere in Northern Ireland.
"That means between one quarter and one third of today's Lecale residents were not born here. That is a lot of people to discriminate against."
Defending Mr Enright as "an outstanding local councillor for this area for over 12 years", they accused Mr McGrath of trying to "distract attention" from his main point, "namely that in August 2017 the SDLP voted against the Downpatrick Master Plan thus breaking their pledge given at the last election (which will) have a serious effect on all the citizens of Lecale regardless of their national origin".
Mr McGrath insisted he had been solely hitting out against his colleague's criticism of the area.
"To be absolutely clear, I have no problem with anyone who has chosen to live in our community expressing their view," he said.
"What I do take issue with is the constant negative politics that seeks to diminish and degrade Downpatrick. A huge amount of positive work is happening to enhance and promote our town. The last thing we need is a local representative running us down."