A discussion on the Riverside Theatre turned ugly with accusations of misogyny being directed towards DUP Councillor Adrian McQuillan by Sinn Fein Councillor Cara McShane.
The Bann DEA councillor suggested to the Leisure & Development Committee chairman that ‘There’s a foreign station coming in there Chairman, mute her’, when Alliance Alderman Yvonne Boyle attempted to speak at the same time as him.
Glens Councillor Cara McShane described his comments as ‘absolutely abhorrent, disgusting and repulsive’.
Alderman Boyle had raised the issue of the Riverside Theatre, speaking of her concerns about the lack of communication between the council and the university.
The Coleraine DEA councillor explained she had attended a meeting with Ulster University staff at the Vice Chancellor’s office accompanied by Councillor McCaw and Stewart Dickson MLA, the Alliance Economy spokesperson.
She proceeded to thank Councillors Joan Baird, William McCandless, Stephanie Quigley, Helena Dallat O’Driscoll and Dermot Nicholl who offered her support on the matter before asking: “Who are the council officers currently in contact with at the University of Ulster regarding the Riverside in order to progress the situation or indeed keep the lines of communication open to receive information after the review is over?”
Julie Welsh, Head of Community and Culture confirmed that she had been in contact with Gary Clarke, the university’s Head of Commercial Services and that Desima Connolly, council’s Arts and Development Manager had submitted a couple of requests to set up a meeting with the management team of the Riverside before Christmas. However, at this stage they were awaiting responses from the university.
At that point the chairman, Councillor John McAuley, allowed Councillor McQuillan to have his say and as Alderman Boyle also attempted to speak the DUP councillor said: “There’s a foreign station coming in there Chairman, mute her.”
He then asked Ms Welsh why council were chasing the university adding: “Surely it’s up to them to come to us, set out their stall and tell us what they are going to do then ask us for whatever they are looking for. If that was a community group, we don’t chase after any community groups to give them money.”
Ms Welsh explained: “It was discussed in a council meeting and it was decided we would contact the university and ask them to come to council to present to us in terms of where they were at with the Riverside Theatre. They also indicated to the council that they would come back to us in January so I was following up.”
Proposing ‘that we leave it and the ball is back in the university’s court’, Councillor McQuillan turned his attention to Alderman Boyle.
He said: “Can I also ask Councillor Boyle, she named a whole line of councillors, who did she ask from our party?
Alderman Boyle replied: “Your own party was the first in line, along with your MLA to be liaising with the Riverside about the situation.”
Not satisfied with the response, Councillor McQuillan continued: “I don’t think you heard my question Councillor Boyle, I asked you, who did you invite from our party to attend with you? So basically you are saying you didn’t invite anybody from our party, is that what you are saying?
Alderman Boyle added that she had invited people, who in the past had expressed an interest in the council supporting the theatre.
Continuing to pursue the matter, Councillor McQuillan stated: “Chairman, Councillor Boyle is quite clearly not going to answer the question but we all know what she is saying and that’s she didn’t invite anybody from our party to attend the meeting with her. This is the Alliance party who is fair and square to everybody except for the DUP.”
At that point Sinn Fein Councillor Sean Bateson interjected saying ‘this is turning into a farce’ to which Cllr McQuillan responded; “Is that another foreign station coming in there chairman?”
Joining the debate, Cllr Cara McShane made her feelings very clear.
“I felt extremely uncomfortable by the comments from Cllr McQuillan in light of the events on this island in the past week,” she said. “I would call out misogyny when I hear it and there were misogynistic comments made to Cllr Boyle about a foreign station and mute her.
“I think it is repulsive and for it to come from an elected representative. I feel so uncomfortable and I will just say to clarify what Cllr Boyle was trying to say was she invited an Alliance delegation, there was no other political party with her delegation.
“I don’t understand how Cllr McQuillan can’t hear that properly but it’s very clear to me that’s what happened.There was an Alliance delegation and then she mentioned three or four other representatives who had supported what she had been calling for and had shown empathy. It wasn’t a cross party delegation.
“I am just disgusted by those comments by Cllr McQuillan at the beginning of his input or contribution. It is absolutely abhorrent, disgusting and repulsive.”
Committee chairman DUP Councillor John McAuley said: “I can clarify that Cllr McQuillan made the same comments about a ‘foreign station’ when Cllr Bateson spoke. I don’t think he was being misogynistic in any manner but the point has been noted.”
Stating the importance of supporting the university UUP Alderman Joan Baird turned her attention to the comments made by Cllr McQuillan.
She said: “I do want to make a point and it’s following on from the attitude we’ve just seen towards a councillor, a lady in this Chamber.
“We should have respect when speaking to a Member in the Chamber and all Members should show that respect, especially when speaking to a lady in light of the shocking murder that has happened in Tullamore. We really do need to think about what we are doing and change our attitudes.”
The committee chairman allowed his party colleague to speak again on the basis he ‘was wanting to clarify some of the comments’.
Cllr McQuillan said: “I thought we were all equal in this Chamber and we were fit to debate without being called misogynistic or anything else.
“I take exception to Cllr Baird saying we are against the university, nobody said we were against the university. I asked why we were chasing the university for funding when we don’t do that for community groups or anybody else.
“That’s big from Cllr Baird who voted against the new McDonalds and voted against The Range coming to Coleraine on the Planning Committee. So I’m taking no lectures from her on anything in this Chamber.”
Responding to his comments, Ald Baird said: When I’m chairing the Planning Committee I do it in a professional fashion using statutory legislation. I would suggest Cllr McQuillan attend some of the training and then he will understand what planning is about.”