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A vote that was proposed at last month's Council special Strategy, Policy and Resources meeting was revisited this week at the full October meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council.

The proposal initially taken by Councillor Patrick Brown at the September meeting was to take £10.6M out of the Capital Programme allocation for the proposed Newry civic centre and put it towards the Albert Basin Park project. On Monday night, 4 October  at the full Council meeting, Cllr Gavin Malone requested for the proposal to be put forward again.

Making his proposal Cllr Gavin Malone said "I'd like to propose that we vote again on Cllr Brown's proposals, and the proposal reads as follows: That 10.6 Million be taken out of the Capital Program for this and put towards Phase One of the Albert Basin Project, subject to a business case for the park project being completed."

The Council CEO Marie Ward then reminded Councillors of advice given earlier "Just to say to members and remind members that at the special Strategy, Policy and Resources Committee, you were advised both legally and financially, that this is a proposal that can only be taken in principle, and subject to due diligence for the report to be brought back to the relevant Committee."

Councillor Oonagh Hanlon then put forward a question for the Council Officers. "Under what Standing Order would we be voting on something that we decided on in committee again in full Council, why would we be doing this rehearsing something that was in committee."to which Cllr Brown remarked "That's the point of ratifying minutes at a full council meeting."

"Oh thanks Patrick you are now an officer" said Cllr Mason who continued to seek clarification from Officers.

Cllr Gary Stokes then spoke about positivity around the park. "I said it at the meeting last Monday. I Chaired the meeting on the last Friday week of the Programme Board where I have to say, the cross party support from all five parties on the Council and all independents in attendance, the positivity around the Park across the Chamber continues, and I think the sentiment of that meeting was that we wanted to move on with the park very much at a pace and I think it's a very good news story Chair, the decision that was taken at the SP&R meeting last Monday to move ahead with the park, it was ratified at the committee meeting last Monday so I think there's a very positive news story on the park moving ahead as we agreed last Monday."

Cllr Barra Ó Muirí added "I was going to go along the same line as Gary. The meeting that we had even the Friday before was very positive as well leading then into the Special SP&R.

Cllr Ó Muirí spoke of a request made by Councillors for a timeline and costs to be brought to the October SP&R meeting and moving the project forward "how we can best move this forward in accordance with the governance structures that are agreed by by the Council, including things like the Strategic Finances Working Group, the Audit Committee about everything that we do to be financially safe and secure and to make sure that there's no inappropriate moving of monies or anything like that.

"And to that end when the proposal was made at the SP&R we were so lucky that we had John Walsh the solicitor on hand to give us advice to say 'look, this is bad governance', and you know it struck me at the time that either, some of our Councillors just don't understand the governance structures of the Council, they haven't looked into it, they don't understand what they're doing, or else which is even more worrying that they do understand, and they just don't care.

The legal advice is don't do this, this is bad governance and in order to get a cheap headline and to say look, there's, I was going to say two Independent Councillors, an Independent Councillor, an Alliance Councillor, and now another Independent Councillor who are saying, everyone in the Council's wrong this £10.8 million pound can be moved, you can move it wherever the hell you want, you can flick it here, you can flick it there. Even though our legal advice says you can't do it. And it has created nothing only confusion.

You went from having a positive meeting on Friday, fairly positive meeting on Monday, to complete confusion. Patrick Brown puts out on his Facebook post that he proposed moving £10.8 million from here to there, and everyone voted him down and remember the next time you are going to vote, who voted you down. All we're doing, we're elected by the people, the same as everyone else to go on to try and create better things. 10.6 Patrick sorry.

Either the governance structures of the council aren't understood or they are understood and people are gameplaying with them."

The Council then went into closed session although Cllr Brown queried why it needed to.

On leaving closed session Council CEO, Marie Ward explained that the vote failed with 6 for and 30 against. Ms Ward said "While we were in closed session the item reference number SPR153 2021, the proposal in those minutes put by Councillor Brown and seconded by Cllr Tinnelly was voted on again, and that vote was done on the basis of legal and financial advice, that it was a proposal that could only be taken in principle and subject to due diligence and a report to be brought back to the relevant committee. That vote fell and the vote was 6 for and 30 against. There was a further vote taken in relation to the proposal contained within the minutes proposed by Cllr Byrne and seconded by Cllr Savage and again that vote passed, and it was 34 and 6 against."

To date it seems that a total of £150K has been allocated to the park with no recent funding. Council says the other elements of the Newry City Centre Regeneration Programme and Council wide projects including Gateway to the Mournes  are being supported with £132.4M!

The park will be the topic of debate at the October SP&R meeting later this month.

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