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Thursday, April 22, 2021

‘sickening and heart wrenching’ as War of Words erupts in ‘virtual’ chamber

Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council AGM last Monday (June 8th) didn’t quite go to plan, firstly suffering audio problem, followed by exchanges about Mayor Batson’s term in office, with the comments being described as ‘sickening and heart wrenching‘.

A strange set of circumstances of sorts to begin with anyway, having to be conducted under ‘virtual’ conditions, a first for Council as a result of the COVID-19 restriction. Technical problems in the chamber meant that out-going Mayors Sean Batson’s address was not initially heard, and had to be restarted. That appeared not to have pleased one Councillor, who could be heard in the background saying, ‘Ah please naw, just carry on’.

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In his final address as Mayor, Batson began by saying that his year in office had been a year he ‘won’t forget in a hurry’, going on to say:

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“As a young Irish republican just being selected to Council, being selected by my party to be Mayor of CCGBC, was a special and proud moment for me”.

Also referring to his term as a “baptism of fire”, he said that “from the outset” he wanted to be a Mayor that “reached out to everyone across the CCGBC” to do everything he could to “promote this wonderful area”.

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HOWEVER what should have been an evening when the chain of office was smoothly handed over from one Mayor to another, was overshadowed when Mayor Batson moved swiftly on following his final address to the chamber, without first allowing other members, including the deputy Mayor, to reply.

PUP Councillor, Russel Watton, took umbrage at this before being told by the Mayor that there was ‘no responding’ to his address and that it would follow the order of business. Other members also made it very clear that it was unusual not to be able to respond at this point and that at the very least the out-going deputy Mayor, DUP’s Sharon McKillop, should be allowed to also address the chamber. Following several back and forth exchanges, Cllr McKillop got he opportunity to address the virtual chamber.

However again an attempt to move the proceeding on were interrupted by Independent Councillor, Padraig McShane who proceeded, and was allowed to speak. This was followed by Cllr Batson conceding and opening the floor to others, stating that he wasn’t aware it was normal for members to be allowed to reply to the Mayors address should they wish.

Several of those who took the opportunity to speak, did so to voice their disappointment on the the previous Mayors term in office. Cllr Adrian McQuillian described Cllr Batsons year in office, saying:

“I think you’re the worst Mayor in the history of this council, not even the history of this Council, but the history of Coleraine Council.”

Referring to the vote of no confident in 2019 against Mayor Batson, Cllr McQuillan described it as a “sham fight” that “had to be done”. McQuillan when on to say that the young Councillor wasn’t representing him or the PUL community and that he was a “disgrace”.

Alliance Councillors, McCaw & Boyle, thanked Cllr Batson, as did Cllr Cara McShane on behalf of Sinn Fein as the partys Council group leader. Continuing on she criticised Cllr McQuillian’s choice of words and phrases, saying that she had:

“Never ever experienced the diatribe (she) just listened to from Cllr McQuillian” and that it was “absolutely sickening and heart wrenching, that someone can think of the formation of words that he did”.

Going on Cllr McShane said: “the hatred and vile sectarian hatred…” before bing interrupted by Cllr McQuillian replying: “my heart bleeds”.

Cllr cara McShane also made reference to the abuse Mr Batson received as Mayor, calling the silence “deafening from elected representative across the political spectrum over the (previous) 12 months. Before finishing, The Councillor called for the Councils Chief Executive to investigate claims made her that at the beginning of proceeding, band music was heard from another Councillors phone.

Later PUP Councillor, Russel Watton was also allowed to reply, referred to the out-going Mayor as a “republican Mayor” who “did not reach out to the PUL community” mirroring the words of Cllr McQuillian. Cllr Watson also went on to tell him that he “wasn’t my Mayor” and that his year in that position was a “disgrace and shambles”.

Eventually the proceeding came to a close with the Mayor Mark Fielding (DUP), and his Deputy Tom McKeown (UUP), taking up the office for 2020/21 council term.

The FULL audio is available at the Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council Website.

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