Councillors clash over Jenny Palmer

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A row has broken out over an attempt to remove former DUP Councillor Jenny Palmer from the Board of the Lagan Valley Regional Park.

And a number of Lisburn and Castlereagh City Councillors have taken the unprecedented step of signing a petition calling on other members to reconsider a decision.

“At last week’s council meeting two of Councillor Palmer’s former DUP colleagues, with the support of the SDLP, moved to remove Councillor Palmer from her role on the park, of which she is the current Chair,” explained Alliance Alderman Stephen Martin.

“Nominations to outside boards ordinarily go through the relevant committees but at the end of the council meeting DUP Aldermen Allan Ewart and David Drysdale nominated SDLP Councillor Pat Catney onto the Lagan Valley Regional Park. The nomination was taken and the agenda moved along without time for alternative nominations or consideration.

“Despite attempts by Councillor Palmer and I to have the matter more fully considered, the Mayor made a ruling to end debate when it is clear the decision did not have the full backing of all councillors.

“This wasn’t a case of councillors making a mistake. The vast majority of councillors did not have any information on which to base a decision and no time to object or ask questions. What’s more striking is that nominations to the Board were due to have been looked at in detail by the Development Committee in September by agreement.

I am completely baffled as to why the SDLP would sit on their hands and not decline the nomination. The SDLP have willingly allowed themselves to be used as a pawn in a game meant to isolate Councillors Jenny and John Palmer from playing their full and rightful parts on the Council. Party allegiance aside, I will not stand idly by when these sorts of tricks are being pulled on good representatives only doing the best to represent their electorate.

“To anyone who doesn’t follow politics this might seem like a storm in a tea cup but it goes to the heart of how Council decisions are made. By sneaking the nomination through this was a deliberate and well executed plan to push the decision through without anyone noticing. You could nearly be impressed by how it was done but the Council’s enhanced powers means good governance is absolutely crucial. Rush decisions cannot be left unchallenged.

Alliance, Ulster Unionist, NI21 and TUV representatives in what is an unprecedented show of bipartisan joint action have all signed a call-in petition requiring reconsideration of the decision. That in itself speaks volumes. We might all make the political naughty list in the eyes of some who would have preferred this be swept under the carpet but even if we lose what is in effect a recount, the message must go out that Council decision making will be open, fair and transparent.

“I would hope Councillor Pat Catney does the honourable thing and decline the nomination thereby creating a vacancy so a fair nominating process can take place.”

Lisburn’s Deputy Mayor, Councillor Alexander Redpath was one of the councillors who signed the ‘call-in petition’.

“I am really concerned about how this decision was taken,” said Mr Redpath. “Two DUP Councillors took it upon themselves to propose that Jenny Palmer be removed from this board. No prior warning was given to Councillors and the normal procedure of these matters being properly discussed and debated at committee was disregarded.”

SDLP Councillor Pat Catney said he believes it was a fair vote and questions why the Alliance Party don’t decline their nomination. “I wasn’t aware of all the political turmoil surrounding this,” said Mr Catney. “I believe in the democratic process and if the call-in petition works then all the nominations should be put back into the mix. I don’t sit on any other external boards but I simply want to represent the people of Lagan Valley,”

Alderman Allan Ewart, Chairman of the Council’s Development Committee, who made the nomination, said there had been ample opportunity for the issue to be discussed during the meeting,

“The Development Committee had one position to propose and Pat Catney was proposed and seconded,” explained Mr Ewart. “The Mayor congratulated Pat on his election to the post and then the meeting moved on. There was every opportunity to propose alternatives and discuss the matter,”