Northern Ireland

Protest staged at Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council meeting

Image caption A crowd of about 100 people protested oustide the meeting

A crowd of about 100 people have protested at a meeting of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council on Monday night.

The meeting, at Craigavon Civic Centre, had been scheduled to discuss operational arrangements for the council's new £35m leisure centre.

The arrangements include the potential outsourcing of service provision.

The centre, scheduled to open in summer 2020, will replace existing facilities in Lurgan, Portadown and Craigavon.

They will close upon completion of the new project which is based immediately adjacent to Craigavon Civic Centre.

About 100 council staff work in the existing centres - but the council has been considering other options, namely that the new centre be operated as a social enterprise or by a private operator.

As councillors arrived at Monday night's meeting they were greeted by representatives of three Unions - GMB, Unite and NIPSA. The unions want the new centre to be staffed by existing council staff.

Outside the Civic Centre, Alan Perry of GMB said: "We are here tonight to send a message to the council. Clearly they should remain in house and we want the vote to go ahead that they remain so."

Image caption Representatives of three Unions - GMB, Unite and NIPSA - took part in the protest

When the meeting got under way a second, smaller protest took place at the rear of the council building.

This related to the recent granting of planning permission for the development of a new Southern Regional College Campus at Craigavon Park.

Some of those involved in that protest began playing sirens, chanting, whistling, shining lights and banging the window of the first floor chamber.

This banging led to a number of council officers leaving their seats for a time in order to be seated elsewhere in the chamber.

There were also suggestions that the police should be called and that lights being flashed through the window could result in epileptic fits.

With the noise continuing, a number of councillors criticised the fact that details of a confidential meeting relating to the leisure centre issue had been leaked to the Lurgan Mail newspaper last week.

That leak suggested that the council was preparing to establish what is known as a Council Company - or CoCo.

This would have seen staff working for a company that was owned by the council but was a separate entity. This, the unions fear, would lead to the erosion of terms and conditions.

When discussion on the matter did take place, it was done in private with the public and press asked to sit outside.

When discussion on the matter did take place, it was done in private with the public and press asked to sit outside.

However, councillors later emerged having agreed to continue to operate the new facility in-house for an initial period of 12 months before conducting a review.