A SINN Féin motion condemning the “appalling loss of life in Gaza” has been passed by the new Mid Ulster shadow council in spite of unionist opposition during an unprecedented emergency meeting on Thursday night.
Introducing the motion, Sinn Fein Councillor Ronan McGinley referred to dreadful scenes in Palestine due to Israeli shell attacks, with over 1,250 Palestinians killed within the last few weeks, mostly civilians, while a further 7,000 people have been injured.
He said he had been prompted to call for the motion “after the people of Mid Ulster demonstrated outrage to the situation on social media sites and several rallies were held within the area.”
The motion stated: “That this council condemns, in the strongest possible terms the appalling loss of life in Gaza and calls on the International Community, including the Irish and British Governments, the EU and the UN to intensify its efforts to resolve the situation in Gaza, to help bring about an immediate ceasefire and implement mechanisms to monitor such a ceasefire agreement, to lift the blockade of Gaza and work towards a just and lasting resolution for the peoples of Palestine and Israel.”
Councillor Sean McGuigan also supported the motion, refering to constituents who had links with the Palestinian community, and one particular case where a constituent knew an entire family that was wiped out by an Israeli attack.
“This brings the conflict very much close to home”, he said. “It is vital that we send a message to the British and Irish governments to do their utmost to end the conflict.
“This is something the people of Mid Ulster feel very strongly about.”
The motion was also supported by the SDLP with Councillor Malachy Qunn saying: “While I know this will have little effect on the conflict itself I think it was very important for the council tonight to send a strong message to both the Irish and British Governments that we want swift action to bring an end to the bloodshed.
“We have all seen the devastation on TV and on social media and it’s hard to believe that
the world is sitting back and letting it continue, with both the UK and Irish Governments
refusing even to back an enquiry into possible war crimes which is a total disgrace.
“It’s vital that the EU, America and the UN find a swift solution to this conflict that includes lifting the blockade around the Gaza strip which is denying those living there even the basic rights and freedoms like travel, electricity, food and water.”
Independent Republican Councillor Barry Monteith said it was vitally important that the council send a message ‘loud and clear’ that the ‘slaughter of innocents’ in Palestine should not continue.
“The killings have disgusted myself and many local people. In particular, I am embarrassed that the Irish government has abstained on the issue at a UN meeting. They didn’t do this in my name.
“This is why we need to send a clear message to the Palestinian people that we are standing by them, and that what the Israelis are doing is genocide.
“I also call on Israel and Egypt to lift the blockade as it is denying the Palestinian people the most basic of human rights.”
However, DUP Councillor Paul McLean rejected the motion on the grounds that it denied Israel the right as a state to defend itself from terrorist attack.
“While I regret the loss of life, and I regret the manner in which they had to do it, and I emphasise, had to do it, yet I believe they have a right, a democratic right to defend themselves and their people”, he said.
UUP Councillor Trevor Wilson proposed an amendment to the motion
His party colleague Walter Cuddy expressed concern that the emergency meeting was setting a dangerous precedent.
“We have a serious amount of business to do with the new council on matters close to home, and I don’t understand the rationale behind this meeting.
“There are other countries undergoing the same problems such as the Ukraine and Syria, with a lot of people getting killed, yet we don’t have a debate about their conflicts.
“It’s important that we as a council don’t get off on the wrong foot and Councillor Wilson has come forward with a more balanced motion so that we can all agree.”
Councillor Cuddy went on to say that the meeting was setting a ‘poor precedent’ and would cost the ratepayer up to £1,000.
The UUP amendment was rejected by the rest of the chamber, and the Sinn Fein proposal was carried.