DUP councillor suggests donating £50k for Irish language signs to refugees

Mid Ulster DUP councillor Paul McLean
Mid Ulster DUP councillor Paul McLean

DUP councillor Paul McLean said Mid Ulster Council should donate the £50k set aside for Irish language signs to refugees at a special meeting last night.

The suggestion - although not a concrete proposal - was made when councillors were asked to put forward “practical and realistic” ideas on how to help those fleeing war-torn Syria.

Councillors praised local efforts on the refugee crisis and were mindful of not appearing to “hijack” community initiatives.

Despite suggestions such as driving a van of aid themselves, re-allocating the £50k for Irish language signs and holding a “32-county meeting” about the refugee crisis, council staff have been given a week to come back with ideas.

Chair Linda Dillon said: “We want practical and realistic proposals to come from this council... we do need to be realistic.

“Think outside the box,” she added.

“The community has already taken the lead on this and I don’t think we should so anything to stifle that.”

Sinn Fein delegation leader, Ronan McGinley, who requested the meeting, spoke at length about the “persecution” that has forced 19.5 million refugees and 32.8 million internally displaced people across the world “to flee their homes”.

He wanted council to write to the Irish and British governments urging them to do more, he also asked that chair Linda Dillon write to leaders of the 32 counties across Ireland inviting them to a meeting to discuss the situation in Mid Ulster - a proposal he retracted after some Unionist councillors voiced concern they were in separate jurisdictions.

Finally he proposed that council staff be tasked with investigating what could be done and feed back.

Sinn Fein councillor, and former council chair, Cathal Mallaghan said he would be willing to drive a van load of aid to refugees himself, while the DUP’s Paul McLean also suggested councillors could donate their travel allowance to Thursday’s meeting to the cause.

A suggestion independent councillor Barry Monteith said wouldn’t work for him, as he doesn’t claim travel allowance.

Speaking for the UUP, Trevor Wilson said they agreed with working to support refugees, adding: “There’s a number of groups who are out there doing excellent work. We shouldn’t be seen to come in and take over.”

Malachy Quinn for the SDLP said: “We should care as much about the people in Syria as we do about the people on the Washingbay Road.”

It was decided that council staff would take a week to gather practical suggestions and report back at next week’s special meeting of council to discuss reports from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Northern Ireland Water.