Was council leader’s IRA jibe a ‘light-hearted’ play on words or ‘insulting’?

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A row has broken out after Blackpool’s council leader referred to a new group of independent councillors as the ‘IRA’.

Coun Simon Blackburn made the remark during a meeting of the full council when the formation of the Independent Blackpool Residents Group was announced.

Coun Gary Coleman is made the new mayor of Blackpool.  He is pictured with mayoress Debbie Coleman and daughter Charlotte Coleman.

Coun Gary Coleman is made the new mayor of Blackpool. He is pictured with mayoress Debbie Coleman and daughter Charlotte Coleman.

The group is made up of former Labour councillors Ian Coleman, Gary Coleman and Debbie Coleman.

Coun Blackburn said he was “happy to propose” his report “and welcome the formation of the IRA.”

Coun Debbie Coleman has written to the council’s chief executive to complain about the remark.

She said: “For the council leader to suggest we are connected to a group of people that killed not just adults, but innocent children, as well as British armed forces personnel, I believe, must surely have broken the members’ code of conduct.

“It would be bad enough if he held no special responsibilities but he is the figurehead of Blackpool Council.

“I would expect Blackpool residents to seriously question why he feels it is one rule for the leader of the council when he makes inappropriate comments and a different rule for those who don’t hold such a privileged and powerful office.”

Conservative group leader Coun Tony Williams also described the comments as ‘insulting.’

He added: “This a disgraceful slur to a group of hard working and dedicated councillors.

“The leader’s remark was totally inappropriate for someone who is supposed to represent this council and his own party in a balanced, adult and responsible manner. “

But Coun Blackburn said his comment was a “light hearted play on words”.

He added: “I was making a point about the sheer ineptitude of the naming of the new political group.

“As I recall, and as many others present will confirm, Coun Williams laughed heartily at this light hearted play on words.

“This very silly ‘complaint’ is a way of the Colemans avoiding the major issue, which is that they have no mandate to sit as Independent councillors. They do not represent Blackpool residents, they only represent themselves.

“They were elected as Labour Councillors, and should immediately resign from the council, and contest their seats in a by-election, as the people of Hawes Side and Brunswick voted for Labour councillors, not Independents. “

Coun Coleman said the suggestion they should step down was “a diversionary tactic to take the spotlight off himself.”

She said: “Gary and I thought long and hard before we decided to leave the Labour Party after so many years. We will continue to represent our constituents as best we can until thelocal elections next May.”

Coun Ian Coleman resigned from the Labour group after stepping down as Mayor in March after complaints were made about comments he made during a civic event.