Tonight’s meeting of Lisburn City Council was surprisingly well attended this evening. Jeffrey Donaldson (MP and MLA) and Edwin Poots (MLA, Minister for Environment) both made it. However, the UUP’s Basil McCrea and Alliance’s Trevor Lunn (both MLAs in “another place”) were absent ... perhaps involved up in party discussions at Hillsborough.
The council meeting opened with fulsome tributes from each party to Councillor Peter O’Hagan who had died just before Christmas. All parties agreed that he was sharp, detailed, well prepared, generous with his time and more committed to public service than most. While many may at times have disagreed with his stance and style (including his own party by their admission) they all felt that the council was poorer without him.
In every Lisburn council meeting I’ve attended, there’s a school boy atmosphere and a feeling of pantomime that quickly descends into a lack of respect for councillors from other parties. The UUP and DUP mock each other, but gang up to heckle and jeer councils from Alliance, Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
While tributes were still being delivered by other parties, one DUP councillor was passed a laptop with the Slugger O’Toole blog clearly visible across the screen and he spent the next while staring intently at the screen. A party colleague flicked through a magazine. Much later, another colleague checked out the BBC Sports football results!
These are public representatives (some of them holding down multiple public jobs) being paid public money to serve their constituents ... and perhaps even pay attention during the bits they find boring?
Councillor John Drake gave his maiden speech, thanking the other councillors for unanimously backing his co-option (rather than forcing a by-election as will be the case as Castlereagh Borough Council seek to replace Iris Robinson).
He was notably open-necked and tie-less ... in notable contrast to all the suited and tied men around the circular council chamber. Will be interesting to see he eventually conforms to the prevailing dress code, or continues to fight for SDLP informality!
Later on in the meeting Councillor Crawford rejoiced that it was “good to have someone from Translink on the council” – John Drake works as an inspector for Translink – before outlining his view of the discriminatory bus and rail services in Lisburn and highlighting a public meeting being held by NITHC/Translink in Belfast next month that he encouraged councillors to attend. (Grosvenor Hall Conference & Training Centre on Glengall Street at 7pm on 4 February)
The best quote of the night came at the end of a discussion about the length of time it had taken to set up an emergency meeting with Roads Service officials to discuss the salting of pedestrianised Bow Street. Raised in the Planning Committee meeting on the 11 January, the emergency talks have finally been scheduled for 5 February. Councillor Leathem explained:
“There was a better ice rink on Bow Street than in Castle Gardens!”
The mayor visibly disapproved with this analysis.
There was criticism of a tourist initiative that saw the city of Belfast running street promotions in Lisburn over the Christmas period. The Economic Development Committee will be writing to ask if Lisburn can promote itself in Belfast!
A dearth of information about Lisburn in Northern Ireland-wide tourism literature was raised by Councillor Tolerton. She’s obviously not looked at Lisburn Council’s own tourism website that has a look of tumbleweed at the moment.
After council intervention, £1.6million of rates bills have been issued to vacant properties that weren’t actually vacant “allowing the rates burden to he shared out more evenly”. The insinuation was that people were informing Land and Property Services but still not being sent bills.
SDLP Councillor Heading is upset that the Library Authority has £100,000 set aside for marketing, but has not yet produced a marketing strategy. He sees them prioritising the closure of libraries over the promotion of their services.
Oh, and they squeezed in a couple of jokes about the DUP taking over the UUP.
With a light agenda, there wasn’t a lot else that happened at the council meeting other than the passing of committee minutes and the Bible reading, quick sermon and a prayer delivered by the mayor’s chaplain at the start. The Ulster Star will no doubt pick up the important stuff I’ve missed ...