Councillors slam attack on DCI – but baulk at ‘unequivocal’ support for PSNI
Members of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have backed a Motion condemning the attempted murder of Detective Chief Inspector John Caldwell.
However, while all agreed on this point, some could not support other content, with one branding it “politically motivated”.
Proposed by Ulster Unionist Councillor Matthew Bell, the Motion described the attack as: “Brutal, cowardly and in front of DCI Caldwell’s young son and other children” and condemned it “a disgraceful act of terrorism”.
It further expressed: “Full and unequivocal support for the PSNI, and called on anyone with information relating to this barbaric attack or any other act of terrorism, including the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr, to pass it to the PSNI.”
Councillor Bell praised those who provided first aid for DCI Caldwell and condemned the follow-up claim that all police are considered legitimate targets.
He said: “We must make it clear that [any such violence] is not supported or wanted. The Omagh Trade Union Council-organised [public] rally heard the crystal-clear message that there is no going back to the violence, conflict and criminal activity, nor to a time when people lived in fear.
“It’s vital as civic leaders we unite to condemn this attack.”
Seconding, party colleague, Councillor John McClaughry, told members DCI Caldwell has: “A real passion for justice and has secured many convictions.
“But there are also cases he hasn’t got closure on, and continues to seek justice [for].
“If the position was reversed, and you were fighting for your life, John would be working to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“As he’s unable to that for himself, it is up to this Council to ask the public to bring forward information on those who indiscriminately shot him, without regard for those around him, on a hateful quest.”
Democratic Unionist Councillor Errol Thompson stated: “Our thoughts and prayers are with DCI Caldwell and his family, as well as the others who were caught up in this very traumatic situation.
“He spent his life trying to make the community better, and was attacked spending time in his personal life doing just that.”
However, Councillor Emmet McAleer, Independent, was disappointed as he claimed the Motion “could and should have been widely supported, if not unanimously, [but] was transformed into a divisive, point-scoring exercise”.
He continued: “Rather than focusing on condemning the shocking and appalling events, this [Motion] has been cynically twisted in the mouth of an election.
“The inclusion of unequivocal PSNI support is something that knowingly cannot be supported by a council, which has on numerous occasions called out the incompetence, inherent bias, institutional racism, sexism, homophobia and sectarianism still prevalent in the [PSNI] organisation,” claimed Councillor McAleer.
Referring to the PSNI’s handling of the Noah Donohue case, and issues around domestic abuse, he continued: “I raised a Motion calling for a review of all deaths in domestic settings, and urged the Chief Constable to establish a mechanism for any officer to raise concerns if senior ranks are overruling them in pursuing cases.”
Because of the call for unequivocal PSNI support within the Motion, Councillor McAleer could not agree to it.
However, in contrast, Councillor Stephen Donnelly, Alliance, was supportive, sending “solidarity to DCI Caldwell and his family”.
Independent Councillor Josephine Deehan, felt the Motion: “Gives the Council the opportunity of formalising our condemnation … This attack was cold-blooded, brutal, reckless and barbaric.”
Councillor Donal O’Cofaigh, CCLA, expressed his “outright condemnation of this brutal and heinous attack, which was particularly reprehensible in front of DCI Caldwell’s son and other young children”.
He added: “This attack offered nothing but division and hurt.”
He added, however: “Sadly, the Motion goes beyond the call for the Council to condemn this cold-blooded act, by shoehorning a demand that we commit ourselves to unequivocally supporting the PSNI.
“What was needed from us was a message of unity. We need a police service, but we also need to be able to express our criticism when necessary … Solely, because of the reference to unequivocal support, I am unfortunately unable to support this Motion, despite the strength of my opposition to the attack, and the criminal threats which followed.”
Councillor Bernice Swift, Independent, welcomed the provision of trauma services for all the family, but added: “It’s unfortunate we don’t seem to be unified because of the context I believe to be politically motivated.
“Having campaigned for truth and justice into state-sponsored murders, I certainly will not be giving unequivocal support to the PSNI … I will not support a force malignant with human rights abuses,” she claimed.
Councillor Eamon Keenan, Independent, agreed, enquiring: “How do we give unequivocal support to anything or anybody? Surely in a democracy, there needs to be scrutiny, oversight and accountability?”
Sinn Fein’s Councillor Philip Withers, who regularly uses the facility where the DCI was attacked, extended his thoughts to DCI Caldwell and family, adding: “I’m aware fellow club members have been deeply impacted.”
Final speaker, Councillor Mary Garrity, SDLP, didn’t accept the Motion was “a political stunt, because surely no-one could be that low?”
She continued: “I appreciate unequivocal support will not go down well with everyone, because they [the PSNI] have had huge failings in the past, but that doesn’t mean everyone in the PSNI is flawed.
“My party doesn’t support any act of terrorism, or any form of murder or attempted murder, regardless of who or what you are.”
The Motion went to a vote, which passed 32 -3, with one abstention.
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