Changing the face of politics in Derry
The election of Sinn Féin councillor Cathal Crumley as Mayor of Derry on Monday 5 June changed the face of politics in Derry forever. The political significance of the event was historic, as it marked the end of Sinn Féin's exclusion from the top post in a city that has an overwhelming nationalist majority. The SDLP, as the largest party in Derry for years, chose to elect unionist candidates for the mayoralty rather than support a Sinn Féin nominee. Also, Crumley's election saw Sinn Féin's first mayor in a major city in Ireland since the election of Terence MacSwiney in Cork in 1920, before the country was partitioned. Sitting in the mayor's office with Cathal Crumley was a curious experience. The walls were decorated with the portraits of all the city's `First Citizens' since local government was reformed in 1973 and elections held on the basis of proportional representation (PR) returned a majority nationalist council.
Prior to that first PR election, unionists had dominated local government in Derry, despite being in a minority, by gerrymandering the electoral system. The unionists, not surprisingly, introduced a majority first past the post system of elections after partition, as PR elections only provided nationalists with opportunities to take political power in some councils, including Derry. In 1920, H. C. O'Doherty was elected as the first nationalist Mayor of Derry since 1688, the next would only be elected 53 years later.
``Sinn Féin's political growth and the negative reaction the SDLP were getting from the electorate meant that sooner or later the SDLP would have had to support a Sinn Féin candidate for mayor,'' Crumley told An Phoblacht. ``It is a pity it took so long in coming, but the reality is that the politics of exclusion have ended forever and the face of politics has changed fundamentally in Derry''.
Derry, long categorised as an SDLP city, has now seen its republican core highlighted and the Sinn Féin mandate recognised.
However it is not the ``trappings of the mayoralty'' that taxes the mind of the new mayor but the fact that as part of his political programme he intends to be a mayor for all the people of the city.
That political message stood out against the ``pomp and finery'' of the previous office holders.
In the run up to his election, the DUP ran a campaign that was aimed at vilifying Crumley to such a degree that the SDLP would renege on their commitment to the d'Hondt system and their pledge of support for his candidacy.
Crumley shrugged off the DUP campaign. He says: ``The people of Derry were not going to get involved in anything that was going to damage the city.
``Also, if the DUP walk away from civic functions and other events aimed at promoting the city and exclude themselves from the cultural and economic life of Derry, they will have to accept responsibility for the cost of that strategy.''
Crumley believes the DUP's electorate would not tolerate the DUP undermining itself and themselves in such a fashion.
As we spoke, requests for interviews came in from the media, most wanting to know the mayor's attitude to DUP calls for loyalists to boycott the Civic Parade due to start in the Waterside area of the city on Saturday. Crumley vowed to attend the parade despite the scaremongering. He did, and although a small protest took place, the parade passed off peacefully.
``There is no doubt that Sinn Féin faces a big challenge but we can run this city in partnership with all the other political parties'', says Crumley.
During his term, he will endeavour to promote and include equality for women. He also wants to work on developing a youth forum, ``to ensure that young people and women will play a full and complete role in the political, social and cultural life of the city''.