Vote Early And Vote Often!!

Pauline Mellon queries the democratic credentials of Derry City and Strabane District Council on her blog The Diary Of A Derry Mother.

There are times when I am so glad of this blog.

This blog gives me the space to convey my thoughts and on the odd occasion the opportunity to set the record straight, particularly when there are those out there content to distort the truth. Now let me tell you a long and boring story ........

Derry City and Strabane District Council held a number of 'Community Planning Meetings', three of which took place in Derry on June 30th. Despite claiming to want further engagement on matters of community planning, council in their endeavors failed to notify residents of these meetings outside of an advertisement in the classified section of the Derry Journal, which in itself speaks volumes.

I would go as far as to say that Council has contradicted key elements in their own draft plan. In the plan Council states they want 'More engaged & influential communities.' & 'Residents don't feel involved in decision making which affects them'. So what do they do? They don't give the community opportunity to engage in the process, therefore denying them the chance of becoming involved in the decision making process & influencing matters which affect them! And this is a super council! Yeah super duper!

In addition to this, the process employed by Council was wide open to abuse with people who knew of the meetings able to cast a vote for the interim chairperson nominees of their choosing in all of the three electoral areas, giving life to the old saying 'vote early and vote often'. Yup even if you lived in the Brandywell you could turn up in Ballyarnett ward and vote there too. I kid you not: this process made the infamous Londonderry Corporation seem like a reasonable bunch of chaps and is evidence that community planning engagement has become little more than a weighted paper exercise.

Prior to these meetings I was approached by residents and asked to put myself forward for the position of interim chairperson in the Ballyarnett DEA. As one of the many disenfranchised from local community structures I was immediately dismissive of the very suggestion, with the current community framework subject to weighted political control. However after a bit of persuasion I reluctantly put forward my nomination offering skills, experience, fresh blood and objectivity. Sadly in our community these traits count for nothing because as I expected the troops were rallied (metaphorically of course) to ensure one of the usual suspects filled the available positions. In the two other areas some nominees for the post of Interim Chair withdrew their nominations, one of those specifically citing the treatment of people at a meeting earlier that day as part of the reason for the withdrawal of his nomination.

As the ballots for interim chairperson were being counted at the first meeting there was a palpable level of discontent among many of the attendees who were concerned that the process lacked structure & was stacked. In advance of the meeting and fully aware of what lay ahead I discussed with some residents the two potential outcomes of the vote. Here it was agreed that if I was unsuccessful we would establish an alternative structure which would take the form of an Independent Community Forum with a related electronic hub. When the vote was announced 73/31 I took the opportunity to announce our plans which went down like a lead balloon with some. Why or how anyone could have a problem with the community being kept up to date with information on developments in their area is beyond me. Maybe in cloud cuckoo land or in one of Josef Stalin's wet dreams this would be an issue. But in modern day Derry City, the jewel in the north, the crucible of civil rights, surely not! But alas some people just have no consideration for the community when pretending to implement a community planning process. Despite this, when leaving I then personally congratulated the new interim chairperson Martin Connolly, something which has been conveniently overlooked by those seeking to quiet any alternative voice.

Former Mayor Elisha McCallion was quick to dismiss the suggestion of an independent forum describing it as divisive. This after I explained that the forum would be open, transparent and inclusive. As Elisha spoke I thought to myself just what part of open, transparent and inclusive does she not understand? Having responded to her comments Elisha approached me immediately after the meeting in a bid to reinforce her point. This gave me the opportunity to reiterate my position and to remind her of her part in what was widely regarded as a divisive process in 2009 when she was employed by the Galliagh Development Trust.

As word filtered out that people had the audacity to be concerned about a flawed process the facebook warriors kicked in to quell questions from curious citizens and to attempt to blacken people who disagreed with keeping the community in the dark. In the midst of this were comments made about myself by Sinn Fein's Director of Elections, Mickey Anderson. Not only did Mickey attribute comments to me that I never made in respect of a 'countering community hub', Mickey stated I did not congratulate Martin Connolly on his election. Wrong on both counts Mickey, as can be confirmed by the newly elected interim chairperson.

But then I wasn't the only person to have fallen foul of Mickey's misdirected ire. In a follow up
statement Mickey accused local people of intimidating former Sinn Fein MLA Mary Nelis including those he refers to as so called independents. With this maybe Mickey would like to take the opportunity to clarify which independents he was referring to and who he was calling an anti-community thug? Moreover maybe Mickey can confirm if he was speaking as an individual or in his capacity as a prominent Sinn Fein figure in the Derry area?

I would welcome a response from Mickey and will gladly publish his response. Oh and Mickey if you're reading this, if you choose to write to me anonymously, unlike previous correspondence to my husband, when sending an email and seeking to remain anonymous don't send it from your Mickey Anderson email address as the clue is in the name!

Mickey was joined online by his Sinn Fein Comrade, Colm Barton who derided people for not accepting the outcome of a 'democratic' election, yet both are associated with a party who in the aftermath of the 'brexit' vote are now disputing the outcome of an election, well an actual election, one in which you could only vote in a ward if you were registered there and you needed i.d. to vote, unlike the 'Mickey Mouse' version foisted upon the people by those clever folks paid out of our domestic rates.

Where this goes and how this pans out is ultimately in the hands of the council and I for one hope common sense prevails. After all a community plan without the community is just a plan. And if residents don't feel involved in decision making which affects them, then Council has failed at the first hurdle.

The thing is people want what's best for their community, they want what's best for their children, but this won't be achieved by perpetuating the same self serving structures that have caused a disconnect between the community and groups operating in the name of the community. Like the Londonderry corporation some structures just need to be condemned to the dustbin of history. Now that's one bin I would like to see disposed of.

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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

2 comments to ''Vote Early And Vote Often!! "

  1. Mrs Mellon - do you have much support from the community for your alternative option? If so, then persevere! Ignore the trolls....I do it all the time, it's great!

  2. As usual an excellent article, to get an idea of the levels shinners like mccallion and connolly would stoop to just google $inn fein $yringes and the disregard for communities
    and these people claim to have the best interests of the community at heart, yeah right!


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