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Council Meeting suspended during Refugee Crisis debate

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A meeting of Causeway Coast and Glens was suspended for 10 minutes last night after arguments broke out during the debate on the ongoing Syrian Refugee Crisis.

The debate came about after a motion was put to council by SDLP Councillor Stephanie Quigley that stated:

“We propose that this Council urgently responds to the current humanitarian crisis in the Middle East by taking up the challenge set by Citizens UK and the UNHRC in facilitating and supporting the resettlement of refugee families within our own community.

We further propose council lobbies the Executive to convene an urgent meeting in these exceptional circumstances in order to form a collective response to the current refugee crisis.”

The following amendment was put forward by the Ulster Unionist Party

We further propose council lobbies the Executive to convene an urgent meeting in these exceptional circumstances in order to form a collective response to the current refugee crisis.”

Opinions on the matter varied greatly, with one Councillor claiming that the refugees were in-fact economic migrants and not fleeing war, citing that many are not coming from Syria but in fact coming from countries such as Afghanistan.

“We propose that this council responds to the current humanitarian crisis in the middle east by encouraging the citizens of this borough to donate to the international aid agencies and local charities involved with providing relief for the refugee crisis.”

Deputy Mayor Cllr Darryl Wilson said “I think it is fair to say that we all have been deeply moved by the harrowing scenes which we have witnessed on television and on social media over the last number of weeks , especially the image of little Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body lying on a beach . These scenes are directly or indirectly related to and the result of a country literally being raised to the ground by a terrible war in Syria which has been raging for years now.

Many people have contacted me asking is there any way we can help at a local level?

I think we should approach this situation with sympathy and compassion, the United Kingdom Government must be commended in sending almost one billion pounds of aid to those in need in the war torn region, this is more aid than has been distributed by any other EU country or indeed by the wealthy Arab states which surround Syria.”

Cllr Wilson put a number of questions from constituents to chamber which addressed a number of issues including the homelessness problem facing the UK which sees over 6000 ex-servicemen living on the streets.

This provoked a strong reaction in the chamber from other members of council

Cllr David Harding stated that no party should be claiming any moral righteousness over another. Continuing with his point, he claimed that there would be approximately 600 refugees coming to Northern Ireland but many are unlikely to end up in Coleraine, preferring to stay in centres of population.

Cllr Padraig McShane said that the crisis in Syria is a direct result of the Arab Spring, in which the citizens of many Middle Eastern nations toppled their governments. He went on to make claims that it was manipulated by Western Powers who fermented trouble in Syria and had marked it for regime change. He described proposals to only accept refugees from Syria as laughable, claiming that “Western Imperialism” had created refugees all over Africa and the Middle East.

Cllr Sean McGlinchey expressed “disappointment” at the way the debate had been conducted.

Alderman John Finlay described the crisis as “heartbreaking” and said that his heart goes out to those fleeing persecution. Looking to Europe, the Alderman claimed that governments there have been unable to develop a strategy to deal with the growing problems surrounding the influx of refugees. He then called on the Council to develop a strategy based on “reality”.

Alderman Finlay then compared the problems in Syria to events during the troubles, claiming that 40,000 protestants were exiled from the City of Londonderry and that many were killed and secretly buried.

After a point of order by Cllr Philip McGuigan, the meeting was adjourned for 10 minutes.

When the meeting was resumed, Cllr Quigley was called on to wrap things up.

Cllr Quigley challenged the description of refugees as economic migrants saying “As a mother of five I would never put my children on a boat, risking their lives for some economic gain.”

Continuing, Cllr Quigley said “We can not sit on our hands and do nothing while people die, don’t vote politics tonight, vote for what is right!”

Cllr Quigley wrapped up by expressing discontent at the behaviour in the chamber, calling it a “shambles.”

Mayor Michelle Knight-McQuillan called on Cllr William McCandless to restate his proposed amendment.

The amended motion was then put to a vote and was passed with a majority of 19 for – 14 against.


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