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A packed two hours in the council chamber

By Kieran Hughes

Five motions, the honouring of a sporting hero, growing moustaches for charity and the nitty-gritty of welfare reform – Belfast City Councillors can pack a hell of a lot into a two-hour meeting.

There was no messing about at last Thursday’s (November 1) monthly get-together as the city’s fathers and mothers raced through a jam-packed agenda.

They were probably inspired by Olympic gold medal winning athlete Mary Peters, for it was the official recognition of her achievements that started proceedings.

She joined a small list of famous sons and daughters of Belfast when she was granted the freedom of the city.

SDLP Councillor Pat McCarthy, who proposed the motion, said the council should recognise the “tremendous contribution” that she has made to the life of the city.

Alliance councillor Máire Hendron, who studied domestic science with Mary Peters, said that as well as being an outstanding sportswoman she was also a person of “high moral standing” who was “totally free from bias or bigotry”.

Jim McVeigh, Sinn Féin councillor said his party were “happy to support the proposal” for someone who is a “fantastic ambassador for the city”.

From honouring a hero to honouring the dead, the chamber fell silent for one minute as a mark of respect to prison officer David Black who was shot dead as he drove to work earlier that day.

Sinn Féin Councillor Tom Hartley said it was important to reflect on the loss and the “trauma suffered by a family” and that the council should send a message of “hope and not despair” for the future.

A revised boundary for the Gaeltacth Quarter, extended it along the Falls Road from its Whiterock Road junction to Dunville Street, was endorsed by councillors despite concern from DUP rep Lee Reynolds, who wanted the proposal for the revised boundary to be deferred to allow a “full equality screening process” to be carried out.

Meanwhile, older citizens in the city may soon be able to take advantage of cheaper food after councillors agreed to call on food retailers to introduce a ‘discount day’ for pensioners.

SDLP Counillor Bernie Kelly, who proposed the motion, said people over 75 spend “twice as much on food” than the rest of us and they needed help to maintain a balanced and healthy diet”.

The tough times again raised their head during heated exchanges about welfare reform. Sinn Féin proposed a motion calling on the Assembly to amend the proposed Welfare Reform Bill “consistent with the specific circumstances and needs of people living in the North”.

SDLP Councillor Nicola Mallon said Sinn Féin should be “ashamed” of their approach to the welfare debate and said that city council asking the Assembly to amend the bill was like the Assembly asking council to “collect the bins”. Sinn Féin’s Gerard O’Neill’s rejected her accusations and described her contribution as a “rant and a rave”.

The quick-fire meeting was brought to a hair-raising conclusion when Mayor Gavin Robinson urged his fellow male councillors to join him in growing a moustache throughout November to raise money for cancer charities.

The annual Movember challenge was taken up last year by North Belfast Councillor Conor Maskey and this year Mayor Robinson is hoping all his male colleagues will follow hirsute.

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