DUP councillor Maurice Devenney said he was honoured to take up the Vice Chairmanship of the ‘shadow’ Derry City and Strabane District Council after receiving the nomination at the new body’s inaugural meeting on Wednesday (June 11).
“It’s an honour to take up the position and yes, there is a lot of work to be done in the next number of months and the next number of years but I’ll be there and working tirelessly for the people of Strabane and Londonderry and I’m deeply honoured and delighted.”
The Newbuildings-based unionist was nominated Deputy Presiding Councillor following the nomination of Castlederg Sinn Féin representative Maolíosa McHugh as Presiding Councillor and the decision by the SDLP to decline the Vice Chairmanship in favour of taking up the Chairmanship of the new Governance and Strategic Planning Committee, to which Waterside councillor SDLP Gerard Diver was nominated.
Mr Devenney said he hoped the spirit of co-operation, which he believes has been epitomised by the moribund Derry City Council, on which he also sits, will continue on the new ‘shadow’ and subsequent ‘super’ Derry City and Strabane Council.
He said: “I have to say when you look back to the previous Council here in Londonderry, we are well renowned here, with all parties sharing the positions, and it is good to see that that tradition is now being carried on and I welcome it.”
The Newbuildings resident said that during his recent very successful canvass in the Tyrone territory of Bready and Magheramason he gave personal guarantees he would be a diligent servant for all the citizens of the new Council.
“When we were knocking on the doors of Magheramason and Bready in the new area...our guarantee was to the people that we will work tirelessly for everyone within the Council area, whether it be in Strabane or Londonderry.”
During the meeting Mr Devenney also moved to temporarily suspend standing orders in order to “further condemn the recent firebomb attack on the Everglades Hotel.”
He said: “I want to reiterate that, we as a Council, condemn the attacks on the Everglades Hotel.”
He added that he wished to “remind those who carried out the attack that it was an attack on everyone.”
SDLP councillor Gerard Diver said he had no difficulty agreeing to the suspension in order to condemn the attack as the party had done at the recent Annual General Meeting of Derry City Council.
Sinn Féin councillor Kevin Campbell said he didn’t believe it was necessary to suspend standing orders but stated that his party’s position in relation to the attack had been made ‘crystal clear’ at the aforesaid AGM.
UUP councillor Derek Hussey told the meeting: “I would also join with my colleagues on my left [councillors Devenney and Diver] in my condemnation.”
Mr Hussey’s party colleague Mary Hamilton said: “I totally condemn the bombing of the Everglades. As someone who has lived through the Troubles. I know what it’s like.”
Independent councillor Gary Donnelly - a member of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement in Londonderry who recently refused to condemn the fire bomb attack - kept his peace.
Speaking to the Sentinel outside Mr Devenney said: “I have to say that I raised the issue at our own AGM here in Londonderry, about condemnation of the attack in the Everglades and all of that there but, you know, we are in a new dispensation here.
“We have a lot of new councillors from Strabane here, we have a lot of new councillors elected at the last elections and it’s good to see that the majority of people were able to speak out and condemn the attack on the Everglades and, you know, pledge their support for the PSNI, and it’s vitally important that we send that message out and as I said in there, earlier on tonight, an attack on the Everglades is an attack on everyone and on the citizens here, of Londonderry.”
Taking up his role as Chair of the new council, which will shadow the pre-existing councils in the North West until 2015, Mr McHugh, quipped that he wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or sorry for having been nominated but thanked Sinn Féin for the honour.
He said he was familiar with the entire Council area through his many years spent working at the ‘tech’ - formerly the North West Institute for Further and Higher Education (NWIFHE); now the North West Regional College (NWRC) - and knew all of the wards from “Carnhill to Creggan and from Strathfoyle to Strabane.”
Mr McHugh said the main objective of the body was to make sure the new ‘super council’ is well prepared for the challenges of the forthcoming reorganisation with a view to addressing issues around health, education and the economy in the wider North West.
“In a sense, it’s a bit like John the Baptist, preparing for things to come, but I just hope I don’t end up like John the Baptist, with my head on a plate,” he joked.
During the meeting the membership of four new committees was also composed.
As mentioned above, SDLP councillor Gerard Diver will chair a new Governance and Strategic Planning Committee (Vice Chair Brian McMahon SF); Sinn Féin councillor Kieran McGuire, will chair a new Planning committee (Vice Chair Brian Tierney SDLP); Sinn Féin councillor Paul Fleming will chair a new Resources and Finance Committee (Vice Chair Rhonda Hamilton DUP); and SDLP councillor Patsy Kelly will chair a new Services Convergence and Transformation Committee (Vice Chair Eric McGinley SF).
The various committees were subsequently filled by members of the various parties according to their mandates calculated according to their first preference weightings, including the four independents.
Mr Donnelly will serve on the new Resources and Finance Committee and the new Planning Committee. Dermot ‘Dee’ Quigley will serve on the new Services Convergence and Transformation Committee alongside Paul Gallagher, who was nominated in his absence: the IRSP member sent apologies from the United States.
Darren O’Reilly will also serve on the new Planning Committee.
During the meeting UUP councillor Derek Hussey also raised the issue of the differential in debt burdens between the two predecessor councils and how this will be handled post-transition.
Fears have been expressed by political representatives in Strabane that the merger with Londonderry will result in a rates hike in the Tyrone region.
Mr Hussey asked if the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) will “report on the major debt burdern differential with the two councils coming together.”
Chief Executive John Kelpie said the matter would be dealt with in a review this Autumn and that it will also be considered at forthcoming committee meetings during the Summer.