I have penned this letter in response to articles published in the Derry Journal on July 6th and Derry News on July 7th 2016. These articles were based on comments by some of our local elected representatives. I had intended to send this to the press but have decided against this because I am positive they would sanitise it. So dear blog readers get a cuppa and get ready to read about the adventures of some of our elected representatives and their uncanny ability to make fact out of fiction.
The comments made in both articles relate to recent Community Planning events which were held consecutively in three of the city's electoral wards on June 30th. During these events an interim Chairperson for each area was selected to represent each DEA at a Council planning forum. As one of the nominees I am concerned that some Councillors in a bid to detract from councils failings in this process have proceeded to indulge in trial by media and lambast many of those who have shown interest in areas of community planning.
As well as writing this widely read blog I am a mother and a community activist who devotes a lot of her spare time to assisting & supporting members of the community with a range of issues. In 2009, I was a founder member of the Galliagh Concerned Residents Group which took Council to task over their refusal to acknowledge their role in a community development. Council's handling of this situation saw residents notified of developments in their area as opposed to being consulted with. I had hoped that lessons had been learned from this but clearly not with the recent community planning events proving little more than a flawed paper exercise. Further to this has been the appalling conduct of some Councilors, one of whom (Councillor McCallion) has made continuous spurious allegations, which believe it or not stem from meetings she did not attend.
These allegations take a number of forms:
Councilor McCallion alleges there was a 'mob' traveling between the meetings intimidating people including Councillors and Council officers. If so have either the Council officers or Councillors concerned logged this alleged intimidation with the police? If not then we must question why a Councillor who was not in attendance at these meetings has made such allegations. In an era when most people have some sort of smart phone attached to them if there was intimidation and 'mob' rule then surely someone must have evidence of this. And whilst hearsay and supposition may amount to fact in Councillor McCallion's world in the real world it amounts to little, well unless you count closed material proceedings.
Councillor McCallion's second allegation of intimidation related to what has been described as a heated exchange between two older women. This is something local SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney has also commented on in the press. However as with Councillor McCallion, Councillor Brian Tierney was also not at the meeting.
I am concerned by Councillors Tierney and McCallion's keenness to indulge in trial by media. To condemn someone in the press (whether you name them or not) it would be useful if either of these 'community leaders' had actually witnessed something or spoken to the accused. A woman who believes that out of a room rife with heated debate she has been used a scapegoat. Which is quite possibly an attempt to deflect from Council's poor handling of the entire situation and the fact the people are now challenging the status quo. After all it wouldn't be good for the status quo if people started to have input into what happens in their communities!
The third allegation made by Councilor McCallion involves an Independent Councilor who she alleges instructed one of the nominees to withdraw her nomination. That a Councilor and former first citizen of this city would spew such unfounded nonsense is not only deeply concerning but is starting to make the ideas of former British Law Lord Kenneth Diplock seem fair and just.
Again unlike Councillor McCallion I have actually spoken to the nominee and Councillor both of whom totally refute Councilor McCallion's allegation. I'm sure if Councillor McCallion had spoken to the lady who withdrew her nomination then things would be different. But then it's possible Councillor McCallion wouldn't want the truth getting in the way of a few soundbites in the media. Note for future reference; what you know, what you're told, what you think you know and what you can actually substantiate with fact or evidence are entirely different things.
On July 6th I asked to meet with SDLP Councillor Brian Tierney to raise my concerns with him. Councillor Tierney agreed to meet & clarified some of the comments attributed to him. However whether Councillor Tierney will take the time to clarify his position publicly in the media is unknown, although I would hope he will do the right thing.
I also extended the same courtesy to Sinn Fein Councilor Elisha McCallion, having rang her office requesting to speak with her about her recent comments. As of today the response from Councilor McCallion has been about as substantive as her evidence in that she hasn't responded.
If we are to move forward as city then we need to be looking at how the recent behaviour of some Councillors could discourage potential investors. To ensure an end to this behaviour I would call on the Councillors in question to revisit the Nolan principles on public life. After all can you imagine any other profession where people in leadership positions call colleagues liars publicly and spread misinformation about the people they are charged with representing? If it was any other profession then their conduct would be deemed unacceptable and they would be removed from their position. How this looks to people from outside the city should be of concern to everyone.
In closing I feel the important thing now is to ensure the involvement of the wider community in all areas of community planning. As such I would suggest that Council refers these matters back to the community, this time availing of a broad spectrum of avenues to help advertise these events, with proper management processes put in place to ensure that anyone who wants to engage with Council on their plans for the community & the city have opportunity do so. After all a community plan without the community is just a plan, one the community have no ownership of.