Roundabout And Divisions Destroyed Newry Party
(Part 2)

“The public representative’s duty is to consult with the electors involved, before casting a vote in opposition to their point of view. Any public-spirited Newry person, having a progressive outlook, would describe the roundabout as a very bad proposal for the town. If necessary, we will be prepared to resist eviction from our homes and business premises.”

In describing the attitude of the delegation as “impertinent,” council chairman Pat McMahon declared: “I will not be bullied, coerced or blackmailed into doing anything. My first duty is to the entire town, and not to any particular section of it.” And Cllr Terry Hogan stated: “Nobody is going to dictate to me. I will do what I think is right.”

Former council chairman Tommy Markey told his successor: “You represent the whole town, - Catholic and Protestant. We are here to carry out the best policy for the town. While I may disagree with you on some matters, my duty is to support you in carrying out that policy.”

However, Cllr Tommy McGrath stated: “I have never been convinced that the roundabout was necessary at this juncture. I feel that there is an air of mystery, particularly with regard to the plan, promised for the whole of Newry. This area has been promised many things, which have never been forthcoming. If we take a decision now with regard to the roundabout, which may be found not to be necessary in five of ten years time, the horse will have bolted!”

And Cllr Mick Murphy claimed that the Design Engineer, Mr McAleenan, had agreed with him that an alternative scheme might be feasible. This would entail use of the old railway line from the abattoir.

But at a subsequent council meeting, the engineer robustly rejected this assertion, as well as the Cllr Murphy’s proposal that the roundabout could be sited between Mary Street and Buttercrane Quay, which he said would be “as impractical as a roundabout in the centre of Hill Street. All feasible alternatives have been considered, and others are out of the question.

“Councillor Murphy has done considerable harm, and has held out false hopes which cannot be realised, to those people whose houses and businesses are affected. They have a right to know what will happen. I have been employed by this council to advise on road works, and the time has come for you gentlemen to accept either councillor Murphy’s view or mine.

“While I have every sympathy with the residents, we all know how important good road connections will be, in order that we can take advantage of the opportunities which have been extended to us. Yet there are people in this council chamber who will tell you that we do not need new roads. Those affected will receive suitable compensation, getting new homes and businesses,” the engineer stated.

Newry Urban Council then approved the roundabout plan by ten votes to the four. Those in favour were Cllr McMahon’s group, along with the unionists and Gerry Sloan (Newry Labour). Neither Cllr Markey, nor the council vice-chairman Billy Baird were present. In opposition were Cllr McGrath’s group.

Meanwhile, the allocation of 54 houses at Barcroft Park and the Armagh Road was also causing a sharp division. Journalists were excluded from the council committee meeting to select the new tenants, as a result of which Cllrs Tommy McGrath and Mick Murphy left in protest.

“No amount of whitewash can detract from the fact that the housing allocations were the worst-ever in this town,” stated cllr McGrath. “So-called Labour men were allocating houses to people, without any regard to qualifications. Never did I think that I would hear the chairman of this council declare: `Give me my bite of the cherry,` plumping for a person who was only married a few weeks, for a six-apartment house.”

Cllr Mickey McKeown denied that they were wrong in not accepting a list of housing applications, presented by cllrs Tommy McGrath, Hugh Golding, Colman Rowntee and Mick Murphy.

The editorial in a local newspaper declared: “Once again the men at the head of affairs in the frontier town have stooped to petty squabbling in the name of public representation. A majority of them do not want their actions to be publicly viewed, and this has presented an image none too helpful to a community, where high unemployment continues to throttle the economy.

“This is the third occasion that our much-cherished freedom of speech has been confined to the council boardroom, and cannot enhance the image of Newry Urban Council. It means that the ten councillors, who voted for a ban on the Press, had something to hide.”

The six disaffected members of the Irish Labour Party, including council chairman Pat McMahon, announced their resignation from the Party. A spokesman said: “It was unanimously agreed that, due to internal strife, and the lack or principle shown by the chairman of the Newry branch, Cllr McGrath, the only course left was to resign.”

However, Cllr McMahon continued to be re-elected council chairman, with unionist support, for the next three years. The council was abolished in 1971, following the general boycott of local authorities in protest at internment.

Ironically, when Newry and Mourne district council was inaugurated, over 35 years ago, roads and housing were removed for their sphere of responsibilities. So the controversial roundabout proceeded without any input from local councillors. The Irish Labour Party also ceased to exist in Newry and Warrenpoint. Only Tommy McGrath from the defunct Newry U.D.C. was elected to the new council, - and he was on the S.D.L.P. ticket!

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© Fabian Boyle 2001-2008