A Sinn Fein motion calling on Ballymena Borough Council to totally oppose ‘Tory welfare cuts’ overwhelmingly failed to find support at last week’s October monthly meeting, falling to a DUP amendment by 13 votes to two.
Prior to being put the vote, SF Cllr Paul Maguire’s motion, drew strongly worded negative responses from Unionist councillors.
His motion, which was seconded by SF Cllr Monica Digney, read: “This Council is totally opposed to the imposition of Tory welfare cuts, which would have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable in our society, including working families, the poor and people with disabilities”.
Calling on members to support it, Cllr Maguire said the welfare cuts would see “thousands of households across the borough, especially in the most deprived areas, suffer estimated losses to their family budgets of £21m”.
He stated: “If our top five employers within the borough were to announce their immediate withdrawal from the area, God forbid, it wouldn’t have as devastating an impact on the local economy and certainly not on children, the sick and disabled or the working poor.
“If such industries were to announce their withdrawal from the borough, every member and every party would join together to fight against it.”
First to respond, UUP Cllr James McClean said Sinn Fein had “exposed their hypocrisy” by tabling the motion.
“They want to debate Welfare Reform in this Council which has no powers to do anything about. Even if this Council did support SF’s motion, it would be irrelevant - but SF won’t even debate Welfare Reform in the Stormont Assembly which has the authority they are seeking here. In my opinion, they are political cowards.
“It would be more appropriate if SF Councillors would encourage their SF Assembly colleagues to bring the Welfare Reform legislation to the floor of the Assembly so that it can be debated and shaped to suit the needs of the people of Northern Ireland. It is a nonsense of a motion.”
Next to get to his feet, TUV Cllr Timothy Gaston accused Sinn Fein of “launching economic warfare” by blocking Welfare Reform and of “using their position to bankrupt the country from within”.
Cllr Gaston, who described Cllr Maguire’s motion as “wiffle waffle”, had, however, to be reminded twice himself by the Mayor “to keep it relevant”.
Alliance Councillor Jayne Dunlop confirmed her opposition to the motion “purely because what is happening at Stormont at the moment is not helping”.
She added: “I am glad that Cllr Maguire has given us the opportunity to say to the people at Stormont - ‘please sort it out’”.
Bringing forward his amendment, Alderman Maurice Mills said the motion before the meeting “doesn’t even attempt to offer a positive way forward”
Ald Mills’ amendment, which was seconded by DUP Cllr Desmond Robinson and carried by 13 votes for and two against, read: “That this Council notes with concern the current lack of agreement surrounding welfare reform, believes that the financial penalties of £1 billion that the Executive will face as a result of lack of agreement will have disastrous consequences on public services, business, families, individuals and on the future of Northern Ireland and calls on the Executive to agree to the welfare reform proposals as negotiated by the Executive which will help to mitigate the effects of the Government’s proposals.”