Mid and East Antrim councillors in row over Union Connectivity group proposal

A row broke out among Mid and East Antrim councillors on Monday evening over a new working group to progress links between the borough and the United Kingdom.

Councillors voted against an Alliance proposal to proceed with the formation of a Union Connectivity group.

One of the aims of the group is to consider the “out workings” of the recent Union Connectivity Review published last month by Sir Peter Hendy,

Sir Peter, Chair of Network Rail, was appointed by the UK Government to lead an independent review into how transport links between the four regions of the United Kingdom could be improved and to bring forward funding to accelerate projects.

Irish Sea crossing

In his recommendations, Sir Peter backed a case for the upgrade of the A75 road in Scotland which has been supported by the borough council in association with Dumfries and Galloway Council as it is believed to be of mutual economic benefit.

The route connects Cairnryan to Dumfries and Gretna and onwards to England but some sections are still single carriageway.

A bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland had been mooted by Prime Minister Boris Johnson but has been ruled out due to cost.

DUP Alderman Billy Ashe, a Carrickfergus representative and Alderman Paul Reid, Larne Lough, disputed the proposed composition of the group by the “Quota Greatest Remainder” method.

Ald Ashe said:”That would not have been my choice of tools.”

Acting chief executive Philip Thompson stated: “Normal practice is the Greatest Remainder.”

In response to a query by Knockagh DUP Councillor Peter Johnston over meetings of a previous Union Connectivity group, Mr Thompson explained that it was not able to meet due to a “call-in”.

A call-in provides a mechanism for councillors to intervene when they feel that a decision being made needs to be reconsidered.

Ald Reid suggested that the local authority should wait until legal action is resolved before proceeding with a new group.

Sinn Fein said that it did not want to be part of the group.

Larne Lough Alliance Councillor Danny Donnelly said: “I am very glad to see this representative group being brought forward. It is something we have been pushing for for quite a while. We think six members is a good number, a good representative number of council.”

Seconding Cllr Donnelly’s proposal to proceed, party colleague Larne Lough Councillor Robert Logan commented: “It is a group that is not too big and not too small.”

Coast Road Sinn Fein Councillor James McKeown said that Sinn Fein would not be taking a seat.

“I think time, expense and efforts could be better spent on a more positive attitude to the Northern Ireland Protocol than trying to force our way into some sort of economic way to maintain a union.”

Knockagh Ulster Unioinist Councillor Andrew Wilson commented that a “call-in” does not stop the authority constituting a group.

Cllr Donnelly remarked that there seems to be “a great reluctance to set up this group that people in the chamber were quite enthusiastic about”.

Ald Reid stated: “There is nobody trying to stop setting up this group. It is about how it is done.”

Cllr Logan observed: “We will be talking about the Union Connectivity group next January if we keep going like this. It is just ridiculous.”

The proposal was defeated by 21 votes against and 16 in favour. Sinn Fein abstained from the vote.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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