Northern Ireland news

Alliance and DUP have lowest attendance at Belfast council Brexit Committee

Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

AN ALLIANCE councillor running for Westminster has not attended a single meeting of her council's Brexit Committee in the past six months.

Former Belfast lord mayor Nuala McAllister, Alliance's North Belfast election candidate, has missed all seven committee meetings held since the local elections.

Alliance and DUP councillors have the joint lowest attendance record at 40 per cent, according to the minutes made public since May.

Ms McAllister, who along with her party is strongly pro-Remain, cited childcare difficulties as the reason for her absences.

DUP councillor George Dorrian, council group leader for the Brexit-backing party, was also absent from all seven meetings.

He dismissed the committee as a "vanity project" used as an "opportunity to grandstand".

Read More: Belfast council's no-deal Brexit report shows 'disastrous impact', pro-Remain parties warn

Belfast City Council last year became the first council in Northern Ireland to set up a committee specifically to address Brexit matters.

The committee has looked at contingency planning in case the UK leaves the European Union without a deal.

It has 20 members: six for Sinn Féin, five DUP, three Alliance, two SDLP, and one each for the Green Party, People Before Profit, UUP and PUP.

Of the five meetings since May's election for which minutes have been published, Sinn Féin had an attendance record of 97 per cent and the SDLP had 70 per cent.

The Green Party, UUP and PUP reps each attended all five meetings, while People Before Profit's representative missed one.

Alliance's Ms McAllister and the DUP's Mr Dorrian were absent from all five, plus the two most recent meetings for which all attendances have yet to be published.

Ms McAllister said that to attend every Brexit Committee meeting would mean "at least another three nights a week away from my young children, which I am not willing or able to do".

"Unlike many other professions, women in politics are not entitled to maternity break. I have done everything in my power to miss as little as possible, even bringing my baby along when childcare has not been possible," the mother-of-two said.

She said she regularly attends other meetings relating to Brexit.

On her Brexit Committee absences, she said "any insinuations this attendance reflects on my and Alliance's Remain credentials is cheap political point-scoring".

Mr Dorrian said the committee's establishment "was a vanity project to allow some councillors an opportunity to grandstand" and has "delivered nothing of any value for the people of Belfast".

"The DUP is opposed to the deal brought forward by the prime minister, but changes to that agreement will be secured in the House of Commons, not Belfast City Hall," he added.

Tom Kelly, who chaired the 'Northern Ireland Stronger in Europe' campaign for the 2016 EU referendum, expressed surprise at Ms McAllister's absences.

"It's not surprising on one level that the DUP don't attend but it is hugely surprising that Alliance aren't," he said.

He added: "It is disappointing that one of their leading candidates hasn't been attending meetings."

On Mr Dorrian's dismissal of the committee, he questioned why the DUP councillor agreed to be part of it.

"Why would he bother going on a committee if they believe it's grandstanding?" he asked.

"The DUP claim they want the best deal for Northern Ireland. It would seem appropriate to attend meetings if you want to get the best deal. That's what they keep telling us."

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