Wirral Council pensions committee disrupted

A Wirral Council meeting was disrupted as protestors shouted and refused to leave the room.

On Tuesday, 19 March, between 10 and 20 protestors from the Liverpool Friends of Palestine were at Birkenhead town hall where the local authority was holding a pensions committee meeting.

The protestors were again raising concerns about alleged investments by the Merseyside Pension Fund in arms companies and the defence industry with potential links to the current conflict in Gaza.

The protest follows a similar turnout the previous evening at a full council meeting where a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire was put forward and lost. Concerns around the investments were highlighted in the motion put forward by Wirral’s Green Party which claimed they are over £17m.

The issue was previously raised at a previous pensions meeting in December which saw the council set up a new working group to look at the pension fund’s investments in further detail from defence companies to issues like climate change.

At Tuesday’s meeting, pension fund representatives confirmed the group would review details of investments in defence companies later this year.

However, the meeting faced disruption when a protestor refused to film the meeting from the public gallery insisting on doing so from directly behind councillors.

Later in the meeting when the committee decided to discuss private confidential information on a separate unrelated issue, protestors accused councillors of not answering their questions and initially refused to leave the room.

Elsewhere in the town hall as protestors were leaving the building, one Wirral Council staff member was also shouted at, accused of being “a little rat” and a liar after refusing to let a member of the public back into the town hall. The protestor then proceeded to shout at a passer-by outside the town hall.

At the full council meeting the previous day on 18 March, Ann Litherland, a Wallasey resident, said people were “shocked and disgusted” over the alleged pension investments, adding, “I don’t want my pension invested in arms companies to bomb, kill or injure innocent men, women and children in Gaza and elsewhere.”

In response, pensions chair Julie McManus said she shared concerns about the situation in Gaza, adding, “The destruction and loss of life in Gaza are intolerable and the growing humanitarian disaster is unacceptable and it must stop.”

On the pension fund, she said: “It is right that public bodies consider ethical and human rights concerns. The Merseyside Pension Fund’s stated investment belief is that engagement is more effective in changing behaviours. Exclusion and divestment are a last resort.”

She pointed to the pension fund having 149,000 members, adding the pension committee “has the responsibility to take care of someone else’s money in a suitable way.” She said a revised investment policy was being put forward to committee at a later date and the possibility of a members survey would be looked at.

Protestors gathered outside a full council meeting on 18 March. Credit: Ed Barnes

On 18 March, the Green Party motion at full council about Gaza was voted down by Wirral’s Labour and Conservatives but was supported by the local authority’s Liberal Democrats. The motion called for councillors to “support an immediate, bilateral, long-lasting ceasefire in Gaza” and asked for a report “as soon as practically possible” on any pension fund investments.

Despite his party voting the motion down, Labour council leader Paul Stuart said he agreed there was “urgent need for a ceasefire” and called for a lasting peace urging the government to take action on the issue.

He added, “The international community must put everything it can into diplomatic efforts to achieve just this and push like never before for a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state.

“The international community must recognise a Palestinian state as part of this. Statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people. It is not in the gift of any neighbour.”

However, the vote was criticised by Wirral’s Green Party co-leader Cllr Jo Bird who said, “We need to elect better politicians. We deserve better politicians who will vote for ceasefire when given the chance.”

Lead image: Disruption at a Wirral Council pensions meeting on 19 March. Credit: Ed Barnes

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