Sinn Fein and Greens row over call for council to go vegan and end free food for councillors

Stock image of Belfast City Hall seen through grand gates at front with tourism information display in front of gates
-Credit: (Image: Belfast Live)


Sinn Féin has knocked back a Green party plan for Belfast Council to go vegan.

At a recent Belfast City Council Committee meeting in City Hall the parties went up against each other over a motion by the Greens to impose a “fully plant-based procurement” on council buildings.

The Strategic Policy and Resources Committee nevertheless voted for council officers to prepare a report looking at how a vegan policy would be costed and implemented.

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The Green motion states the council “agrees to engage with the Plant Based Councils initiative and to commit to fully plant-based procurement where food is served throughout the council estate, prioritising seasonal local produce to support local farmers, and ensure that there are plant-based food options available at all City Council run events, as well as prioritising plant-based menu options in council run facilities.”

Green Councillor Anthony Flynn, who proposed the motion, told the S.P and R Committee he was asking for a “feasibility” report on the proposal. He said: “This aligns with our obligations in the Belfast Agenda, in terms of tackling health inequalities and increasing our city’s resilience to climate change, as well as the Belfast City Council declaration of a climate emergency in 2019.

“One of the recommendations in the 2021 UK National Food Strategy recommended that local authorities ensure that ratepayer money is spent on healthy and sustainable foods. Vegan or plant-based diets are better for the environment as they produce a quarter of the emissions compared to diets including meat, less than half of the water consumed and less of an impact on water pollution and biodiversity.

“Local authorities have a huge role to play in helping inform the public in making healthy and sustainable food choices. Belfast Healthy Cities says that reviewing procurement policies for transport and food could enhance health and sustainability for people and the planet.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Ronan McLaughlin said: “I would have some problems around this in terms of procurement, in that we would be exclusively having to deal with plant based caterers, which would narrow the market, and increase the general overall cost.

“I am happy with having options, but this is supposed to be a just transition, it is not about forcing people to eat plant based food, they should be doing it for their own reasons, not because an authority tries to impose it onto them. It should be about people making the right choices through an education process, not through a forced process.

“And I would be worried about the cost. In terms of the current climate, the cost of living crisis, I don’t think we can agree to increase the catering budget of the council. I don’t think the public would stand for that. I don’t think it is a good look at all.”

Green Councillor Brian Smyth said: “What Councillor Flynn is asking for is reasonable. He is asking for a report to come back - if there are issues with procurement they will be set out. That is fair, there are lots of things that go to report and come back with options, and people say further down the line it isn’t for us.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Micheal Donnelly said council catering free meals and drink for councillors at full council meetings and committee was “a bit outdated.” He asked for a report on “cost implications” of feeding the 60 Belfast Councillors at every meeting with a view to ending it.

He said: “We are big and ugly enough to feed ourselves if we are hungry, and grab a sandwich before we go to a committee or full council.” The committee also agreed to look at costs for councillor food.

Asked if the proposal would exclude local farmers who produce meat, Councillor Flynn said: “Many farmers will provide both meat products and also other types of product, plant based products as well.”

He added: “I totally appreciate the cost element to this, and it is one of the reasons I looked so heavily at it with research. A study from Oxford University has compared different food streams across the world and western Europe and plant based food diets can reduce costs by about a third compared to meat based diets.”

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