A FAILED Ulster Unionist motion of no confidence in Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s chairman, Stephen McCann during this month’s Council meeting left an air of bad feeling amongst councillors around the chamber on Tuesday night.
Calling for the council’s first citizen to retract comments made to this newspaper in July regarding the 1987 Enniskillen bomb, Ulster Unionist Howard Thorton said that in failing to condemn the atrocity which ultimately claimed the lives of 12 people and injured many more, as well as praising IRA man, Seamus McElwaine, the chairman had “shamed and disgraced the office”.
While issues of the future of South West Acute Hospital’s (SWAH) stroke services and neo-natal ward were not debated during the meeting, councillors spent over 50 minutes discussing, not only the repercussions of Mr. McCann’s comments two months ago, but a number of events from Northern Ireland’s troubled past which had claimed lives from both sides of the community.
“All sections of our community suffered hurt and pain,” acknowledged Sinn Féin councillor, Brian McCaffrey, “Those issues that exist must be faced up to and dealt with, but some of what has been portrayed and spoken of here tonight gives me no confidence that that will be the case.”
The motion called for Mr. McCann, who was five-years-old when the Enniskillen bomb occurred, to retract his comments. If he did not, the motion requested that Sinn Féin leader Michelle O’Neill find someone to replace him in the role of chairman.
In tabling the motion Mr. Thornton reflected on the events of Remembrance Day 1987.
“I will never forget the sense of shock and disgust expressed by all sections of our local community. 
“As a five year old at that time the Chairman has obviously not had that experience. If he wishes to learn more may I suggest that he visits Enniskillen Library and look through the newspaper reports at that time both from a Unionist and Nationalist perspective. 
“Murder is murder is murder regardless of what justification or excuse the perpetrator provides. There can be no justification.
“Regardless of your personal beliefs, when you wear the chain of office you speak and act on behalf of all of us within this Council. You should not have expressed any political views or bias as Chairman and first citizen.”
Seconding the motion Chris Smyth told the chamber he had heard ‘laughter’ from members of Sinn Féin when his colleague, Mr. Thornton referred to the victims of the Enniskillen bombing as ‘innocent’. He asked that the recording of the meeting be checked later for clarity.
Addressing the chairman, Mr. Smyth said that he too, was a young boy (aged six) when the Omagh bomb “tore a hole through the heart of my town”.
“When I was a child I could not hope to fathom the immense loss that the Omagh bomb caused. The perspective of a six-year-old year old simply does not allow for such understanding, but chairman we are not six years old any longer, we are elected representatives and you are the first citizen of the district.”
The DUP’s Errol Thompson said his party fully supported the motion.
“This motion has been tabled for the very same reasons that my party colleagues and I submitted a complaint to the NI Local Government Commissioner for Standards. We believe there is clear evidence that you not only breached several of the principles of conduct as outlined in section 3.3 of the code but undermined the trust of people in this council area in both you as an elected representative and in the council as a whole. Beyond that we also believe there is a serious question related to the declaration against terrorism signed by you and all other councillors.”
The SDLP’s Patricia Rodgers said she had been approached by members of both the Unionist and Nationalist communities following the interview, all expressing “hurt and upset” by the comments made.
Although stating that she could not support a vote of no confidence in the chairman, Mrs. Rodgers told him there was still time to retract his comments.
The UUP’s Victor Warrington said Mr. McCann had “alienated Unionist and Nationalist communities” by portraying Mr. McElwaine as a ‘peace-making superhero’.
“This individual was nothing more than a psychopathic murderer who caused heartache to families and whose only contribution to Northern Ireland and especially South Fermanagh was to leave a legacy of widows and orphans, many of whom I know and have spoken to personally in the last six to eight weeks.”
Describing the motion as a “waste of the council’s time”, Mr. McCaffrey said all parties had a responsibility to “tread carefully and show respect”.
“And that should be as much to Seamus McElwaine as anybody else,” he added.
“In terms of this motion strangely enough we have been here before. In 1987 the same parties brought a motion of no confidence against Paul Corrigan. That motion was passed and nothing actually happened -- he continued as chairman and carried out a very good job.
“Unionists at the time were quite happy to work With him in the aftermath of that motion.”
He also asked Unionist councillors to bear in mind that the inquest into the death of Mr. McElwaine found that he had been “unlawfully killed”.
The SDLP’s Mary Garrity said the motion and ensuing debate had demonstrated “how badly we are operating ourselves”.
She said that while she did not agree with Mr. McCann’s comments, she could not support the vote of no confidence.
“Some times in life you have to rise above some things we don’t agree with, and move on.
“I condemn all acts of violence -- there was hurt caused on all sides. The summer is behind us and you haven’t retracted or apologised, but I hope lessons have been learned.
“The media are here in the room and after all the work we have done here tonight this is what is going to be highlighted -- that is the shame of this council.”
In closing the debate Mr Thorton said he had often felt the good relationships amongst FODC councillors could set an example to MLAs in Stormont. “I have often said if only Stormont conducted itself in the same way we do,” he said.
“There has been a lot of talk tonight about ‘treading carefully’.
“Chairman, I wish you would have treaded carefully before you went for that interview.”
A majority of 17 members rejected the motion. Twelve members voted in its favour and five SDLP members abstained.

The full audio of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council meeting is available here: http://fermanaghomagh.public-minutes.com/#dbd2279c12f1187e14f99e299fc38e60