Parish war of words over Peace initiative

A CALL to sign up Saddleworth to a peace initiative developed into a war of words drawn-up on party political lines at Saddleworth Parish Council’s latest meeting.

A Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition eventually pushed through Cllr Sam Al-Hamdani’s motion for the Council to become a signatory to the Pledge to Peace despite opposition from Conservative members.

In between there was heated debate with Cllr Al-Hamdani rejecting suggestions the Pledge to Peace was a European Union endorsed campaign and accusations it was only a “talking shop”.

Sam Al-Hamdani and Derek Heffernan signing the pledge in 2018

Tory Cllr Neil Allsopp claimed a better and more up-to-date vehicle to promote peace was to adopt an initiative worked on by Churches Together in Saddleworth.

But with nine votes in favour six against and one abstention – Cllr Jamie Curley – the motion was carried.

“This has been well supported by the European Union” said Cllr Al-Hamdani of the Pledge to Peace launched at the European Parliament in November 2011. “But it is not an initiative of the European Union.

“It is not affected I am told by our already done departure from the European Union.

“This has a lot of support both in Oldham, signed by both the borough council and Shaw and Crompton Parish Council.

“There is a long-standing movement for peace in the borough and parish. It gives merit to their work which shows we support the work of those people who are so active in supporting the peace movement.”

Cllr Allsopp, in his final Parish Council meeting, countered: “Cllr Al-Hamdani is totally incorrect.

“I have various documentation about the Pledge to Peace and every single one of them carries the flag of the European Union.

Neil Allsopp with Pam Byrne

“It talks about citizens of the European Union, and member states, of which this country is not a part.

“This is without a shadow of a doubt a European Union inspired document.

“As for Oldham Council signing up for it – of all the metropolitan borough authorities in this country not one has bothered to sign up for this.

“It is the right direction of travel but the wrong vehicle.”

Since the Pledge to Peace proposals were last discussed at Parish level Churches Together in Saddleworth put together a body of work entitled ‘creating a peaceful and inclusive community in Saddleworth’.

“This is what this Parish Council should be supporting copying and undertaking,” added Cllr Allsopp.

“I don’t think there is anything in there that anyone on the Parish Council or very few people in Saddleworth would disagree with.

“It’s made in Saddleworth by Saddleworth people for Saddleworth people.”

Cllr Curley added: “I just feel signing up to this – as laudable as it is – we would not hear anything and not do anything.

“Working with Churches Together we would actually do something.”

Cllr John Hudson said: “When the late councillor Derek Heffernan was Mayor (of Oldham) he was the Mayor of Peace and brought this forward.

“We rejected it because it was perceived to be an initiative of the European Union. At the time it was very unpopular.

Cllr John Hudson

“I agree with the sentiments but this will get nowhere and we will do nowt. It will be a talking shop.”
Cllr Pam Byrne confirmed she had previously opposed the plan.

“I sat through it when people were presenting it in Oldham, when they presented it at Saddleworth School and again at the Parish Council,” she said.

“The people were so wishy-washy and didn’t know what it was about.

“I felt it wasn’t worth the Parish Council making a declaration without giving it a great deal of thought.

“Saddleworth School signed up but they also have their own peace movement and have produced a chart with their own 25 proposals for peace which they will do.

“This peace movement does not seem to have upped its profile in the last five years.

“We all want peace but I am against signing up to something when we don’t fully understand what it is or the implications.”

Cllr Rob Knotts added: “What are we actually going to do other than present maybe a couple of paragraphs to say we support peace? I hope we support it anyway.”

Summing up, Cllr Al-Hamdani concluded: “While this is an initiative endorsed by the European Union it is not an initiative of the European Union.

“The proposals put forward by Cllr Allsopp seem to have been inspired by what has been done by bringing forward the Pledge for Peace.

“It does not seem like it is contradictory to the Pledge to Peace so I do not see any strong reasons why it would not be possible to endorse both of these.

“I would highly recommend both signing the Pledge to Peace and taking forward the initiative with Churches Together in Saddleworth.”

He said later: “Most of what the Parish Council delivers are practical services for the community, whether that’s allotments, the graveyard, and community facilities.

“But it is also important that we reflect the wider values of people in Saddleworth.

“We have a thriving peace movement in our villages, and there are regular events to mark international peace, such as on International Holocaust Day and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Memorial Days.”

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