Castlereagh Council chambers
The first problem your reporter faced at October’s monthly meeting of Castlereagh Council was getting in the joint.
Normally he approaches the gate, gives a cursory nod to the security guard and that’s all that’s needed.
But this time as he got close to the barrier, it didn’t move. Cue security guard running out and asking who this attempted intruder was.
“Press for the council meeting,” your reporter replied, fixing the wannabe Andy McNab with a quizzical stare.
“Who invited you?” came the unexpected response.
I’ll be honest – it threw me a bit. Your reporter was tempted to reply “Democracy and the people who avidly read the fourth estate in order to ensure we are scrutinising the law-makers” but I resisted.
Then I pulled out the big guns.
“I’m from the South Belfast News, I’m here every month,” I responded with only the merest hint of resignation in my voice.
Obviously the name of this fine periodical holds more weight than expected, because the last line of defence scurried back into his cave and graciously allowed me to pass into Fort Knox…I mean Castlereagh Council.
It was strange, because that may have well been the first time the name of this newspaper was uttered in these surrounding without being preceded by several choice swearwords.
But the war was not yet won and there was another challenge to come. Normally the next stage on the journey is a brief signature in the visitors’ book and Robert’s your mother’s brother. But this time after your reporter jotted his name down he was handed a visitors’ pass, complete with lanyard to wear it around his neck and show off if he so required. An enquiry directed at another security guard as to ‘why?’ was met with a curt “health and safety”.
No other information was forthcoming, so your reporter admitted defeat and took himself off to the chamber. At least here he could sit down and observe the goings on, scrawling them down in his notepad while chuckling to himself, right?
Jimmy Spratt took to his feet to ask for a suspension of standing orders due to a “serious breach of confidentiality” by an unnamed member of the council (if you’re getting briefly excited by this potentially juicy news, please don’t, it’s not even worth reporting).
The net result was the mayor calling the councillors into committee to discuss matters and forcing the press (ie me) and public to leave the chamber for what they hoped wouldn’t be too long.
Oh how wrong they were. Fifty-five (!) full minutes later we were told we were once again good enough to be allowed back in and so to the planning notices we went.
In another change from the norm, there were actually members of the public there, most of them interested in an upcoming planning issue in east Belfast. It meant the councillors had an audience and so decided to perform for it, taking their time over each item, discussing and arguing about them in equal measure. It was all briefly exciting, which is certainly not usually the case for Castlereagh Council, so your reporter knew it was too good to last.
And lo it came to pass. We were soon back to the mundanity and things ground to a halt. As this latest challenge involved your reporter trying to stay awake, he decided that was that and called it a night.