Gay comment omissions sparks row at Magherafelt Council

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THE omission of comments comparing homosexuality to a disease from the minutes of Magherafelt District Council led to further heated exchanges at the monthly meeting this week.

Last month Ulster Unionist Councillor Jackie Crawford withdrew the remarks he made during a debate on a Sinn Fein motion calling for support for same sex marriage.

Sinn Fein group leader Councillor Sean McPeake argued the synopsis of the debate in the minutes did not include what had taken place that night.

He said Councillor Crawford’s remarks that “it’s a pity of them” and that it was “a disease”, which were widely reported in the Press, were omitted.

He also questioned the omission of the comment by DUP Chair Councillor Paul McLean, that homosexuality was an abomination and proposed that the minutes be amended to include the remarks.

UUP Councillor George Shiels reminded councillors that not every single comment was included in the council minutes and claimed Sinn Fein had brought the motion to cause “mischief.”

He said the silence of Sinn Fein members during the debate was deafening and they were so much embarrassed by it that it had been left to “one of the women” to propose the motion.

Councillor McPeake replied that the only party to be embarrassed was the Ulster Unionist Party and that Sinn Fein had fully supported the motion.

Sinn Fein Councillor Peter Bateson remarked that while he appreciate not every comment was recorded the absolute omission of such controversial comments could not be excused.

Councillor McLean said he was on record in the Press as having described same sex marriage as an abomination and he was “man enough” to stand by what he said.

SDLP Councillor Kate Lagan said if members requested amendments in the past it was done but, in fairness, not everything that was said was recorded.

It was agreed, on the proposal of Councillor McPeake, seconded by Councllor Ian Milne, to adopt the minutes subject to amendments to the minutes.

Meanwhile, a leaflet attacking same sex marriage left on the desks of councillors ahead of last month’s debate is to be put on the agenda for discussion at the next monthly meeting.

Sinn Fein Councillor Deborah Ni Shiadhail said as a woman she had found it unacceptable and questioned the protocol relating to leaving such material on councillors desks.

Councillor McLean said the leaflets had been left by Councillor Crawford and as far as he knew there was no protocol.

Councillor Lagan pointed out that over the years she had left papers on members desks about wind turbines and other matters purely for information.

Absent from the meeting was Councillor Crawford who withdrew his comments about same sex marriage after meeting UUP leader Mike Nesbitt to discuss the issue.

“While I re-emphasise my opposition to same-sex marriage, I did not intend to cause any hurt or offence with my use of language. The term ‘disease’ was used as a figure of speech which I would not use again and I regret its unintended impact and any offence caused,” he said in a statement following the meeting.