Two local Sinn Fein councillors have criticised “certain Unionist” reps for “politicising” a debate over whether to allow Crumlin Community Centre to be used as a drop off point for aid to Gaza.
Annemarie Logue and Noel Maguire said the request had not been a case of “taking sides” but was to allow local people to respond to the humanitarian appeal.
Councillor Logue had made the request at the end of the last week’s Public Services Committee of Antrim Council, explaining she had been contacted by a group of people in the Crumlin area who wanted to see if they could use Crumlin Centre to drop off items to be collected for the humanitarian appeal.
“Items like medicines, clothing, nappies, that kind of thing,” Cllr. Logue said.
Councillor Paul Michael, who was chairing the meeting, said that the issue would have to go to council officers firstly to see what the logisitics and legal implications would be in allowing the community centre to be used as a drop off.
Cllr. Michael tried to keep the matter from getting political as debate ensued after Councillor John Smyth queried who was was organising the collection.
“We have to be very, very careful,” Cllr. Michael said.
He added: “There is a political issue around this and I don’t want us to go down that road.”
Cllr. Logue re-iterated that it was “simply a group of local people” who wanted to use the facility as a drop off and collection point.
Again, Cllr. Michael pointed out that a decision couldn’t be taken without seeking advice from council officers, with Cllr. Logue trying to have a decision taken at the meeting due to the immediate need.
“This is an urgent humanitarian crisis,” she said.
Councillor Adrian Watson said he had concerns over placing such a decision on council staff due to the “sensitive issues”.
He added he was concerned that in doing so, it would mean that the a decision could be taken without coming back to council for approval.
“This is going to go to an officer to make a decision; this is now not going to have the opportunity to come back here,” Cllr. Watson added.
Cllr. Logue again highlighted the urgency of the situation in delaying too long over making a decision.
Councillor Brian Duffin proposed that on a “purely humanitarian” level, that council “in principle approve” Cllr. Logue’s request.
However, Cllr. Michael said he did not think that the committee members could make that decisiosn on “such short notice” without having checked over logistics first.
Cllr. Watson said the Israel-Gaza conflict was a “hot potato”, adding that he supported tryng to help the innocent victims on both sides.
“I’m not anti-Palestine, or anti-Gaza, or pro-Israel,” Cllr. Watson said.
He added: “Hamas are bombing a neighbouring country, who are taking action, and there are innocent victims caught in the middle.”
Cllr. Watson added he was concerned council could be seen to taking sides and should stay neutral.
Cllr. Logue responded by saying that the issue in Gaza is a humanitarian crisis and the issue of politics shouldn’t be brought into the discussion.
Cllr. Michael brought the discussion to a close highlighting there was an opportunity for local churches to help out, and advising of a collection point in Belfast.
“We are not in a position to make a decision; it’s too short notice to make a decision today,” Cllr. Michael said.
However, speaking after the meeting, Cllr. Logue expressed deep disappointment at the failure of the committee to agree on facilitating assistance for a Gaza humanitarian appeal.
“I was simply seeking support in principle for Crumlin Community Centre to be used as a local drop off point for aid for Gaza,” Cllr. Logue said.
She added: “ The situation in Gaza has been declared a humanitarian crisis so I fail to see how anyone could find it difficult to support the wishes of local people wanting to donate goods.
“However, despite certain unionist members stating that they didn’t want to get into the politics of the conflict in Gaza, that is precisely what they did.
“Quoting ‘sensitivities’ surrounding the conflict does not explain their refusal to support aid for hundreds of thousands of innocent victims, many of them women and children. They should be thoroughly ashamed.”
Fellow Sinn Féin councillor Noel Maguire was equally furious and said it had been “extremely frustrating” to witness unionist councillors oppose support for local people wishing to respond to a humanitarian crisis, one, he added, which was declared and supported by the United Nations and all international aid organisations.
“It was made absolutely clear that this was not a question of taking sides. The stark truth is that as the conflict goes on the people of Gaza are without supplies of clean water and electricity, as well as in dire need of essential medical aid, food and clothes,” Cllr. Maguire said.
He added: “All this in addition to suffering devastation and human loss on a cataclysmic scale. Who in the name of humanity could deny them aid?
“It was quite clear that certain references to pro-Palestinian demonstrations showed a definite bias on the part of those opposing Councillor Logue’s plea.
“Demonstrations I might add that are taking place across Ireland, Britain, Europe, and the rest of the world.
“As speakers locally have constantly made explicitly clear, these demonstrations, supported by the trade unions, are neither ‘Catholic’ nor ‘Protestant’.
“It is high time unionist politicians lost their myopic and narcissistic tendency to reduce everything to a local context. Their attitude is very saddening in this call for desperately needed humanitarian relief.”