Political news

Belfast councillors agree new code of conduct as relations described as worse than 'the dark old days'

UUP councillor Jim Rodgers said he would "move heaven and hell" to improve relationships in Belfast City Council. Picture by Philip Walsh
John Monaghan

A former Belfast mayor has said he will move "heaven and hell" to improve relationships within the city council, after describing the current atmosphere as worse than during the Troubles.

Jim Rodgers was speaking as councillors agreed an amended code of conduct which bars the use of any "grossly offensive expression" against fellow members.

"I will move heaven and hell to improve relationships in this council because they are not what they should be. Even in the dark old days it wasn't like this," the veteran Ulster Unionist councillor said.

The motion, which had split the council when it was first carried last month, was amended by one word and approved following a debate at February's full council meeting on Thursday.

It concerns the council's standing order 30, which had stated that "a member shall not impute motives or use offensive expression in reference to any member of the council".

Under the change, the standing order will now refer to any "grossly offensive expression" against fellow councillors, and will - in keeping with the wording of the original motion - also extend to "any person or section of society".

The motion outlines cases where the new order could be breached, including comments in relation to race, nationality, gender, disability or age.

The change was proposed by the DUP's Lee Reynolds, who said he was making the amendment in the "spirit of compromise" after councillors had voted to reject a re-worked motion tabled by Ulster Unionist Jeff Dudgeon.

Mr Dudgeon had suggested a blanket ban on "offensive reference" to "any section of the Belfast community in relation to their legally protected background".

SDLP councillor Donal Lyons said that Mr Dudgeon's proposal would lead councillors into "very murky territory... in a political chamber" as political opinion is covered under legislation.

Alliance councillor Michael Long said the fact that the council was having to even debate the topic was "a pity" but Northern Ireland had "seen the vile and venom" of remarks made by politicians in recent months.

He said: "Many people in Northern Ireland are switched off from politics and the main reason is the disrespectful manner in which people speak to each other.

"The reality is that this issue came about a few months ago because of the comments of one of the people in this chamber about the disability of another member."

Referring to that remark, Ulster Unionist councillor David Browne said he had apologised for describing Sinn Féin's Ciaran Beattie as a "one-armed bandit" during a council meeting in November.

Mr Beattie lost his left hand after being accidentally caught up in an explosion during the Troubles.

Mr Browne added that people "sitting laughing and poking fun" at other councillors while they were giving speeches in the chamber "should be clamped down on".

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