Irish Republican News · June 11, 2007
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
IRISH REPUBLICAN NEWS: Councils struggle with power-sharing
Councils struggle with power-sharing

A bitter war of words erupted between Sinn Féin and the SDLP at the weekend after the SDLP agreed a last-minute deal with Ulster Unionists to take the two top positions in Belfast City Hall.

Sinn Féin was expected to take the mayoral this year after Ulster Unionists publicly pledged their support to elect a republican lord mayor.

However a last-minute backroom deal saw Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers elected mayor and SDLP councillor Bernie Kelly elected as his deputy.

Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey accused the SDLP of entering into a “shabby deal” with the UUP.

“Nationalists and republicans have only had the mayor’s position four times in the last 100 years and thanks to the SDLP even though Sinn Féin is the largest party in this city we have been excluded once again,” he said.

However, SDLP councillor Alban Maginness defended the deal with the UUP, insisting that his party was committed to rotating the lord mayor’s position.

“Sinn Féin didn’t support our mayoral or deputy mayoral candidates on the previous two occasions so it’s a bit rich for them to complain about us,” he said.

“We are committed to rotating the mayoral positions so we will seriously consider Sinn Féin the next time around.”

Meanwhile, DUP councillor Drew Thompson was last night elected mayor of Derry, with new Sinn Féin councillor Patricia Logue selected as deputy mayor.

Mr Thompson, who succeeds the SDLP’s Helen Quigley, was elected under a d’Hondt power-sharing system which divides key posts between the major parties during the council term.

CHANGE IN BALLYMENA

In Ballymena, the DUP’s grip on the local council has come to an end and it is thanks to a group of councillors who quit the party in protest at Ian Paisley forming a government with Sinn Féin.

Ironically, their opposition to a DUP decision to share power in the new Executive has brought a form of power-sharing to a town with a reputation for sectarian division.

At a council meeting last week, the DUP selected a mayor from within its own ranks but, after striking a deal with the SDLP, supported a nationalist candidate for the position of deputy mayor.

Outgoing DUP deputy mayor Maurice Mills will hold the top post, while PJ McAvoy of the SDLP is his deputy.

The anti-agreement councillors who resigned from the DUP have formed their own party, the Ulster Unionist Coalition (UUC), which is the second biggest in the council.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan described the situation as “a moment of opportunity for Ballymena”.

He said the community would respond enthusiastically “to a lead from council showing that we are all working together”.

NO CHANGE IN LISBURN

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has called for legislation to safeguard equality and power-sharing in local councils.

Lagan Valley Paul Butler has said that there is an unwillingness of unionists on Councils like Lisburn and Antrim to enter into partnership politics.

“Whilst there have been moves by some unionists to share power with nationalists within a small number of local councils this has only occurred because of changing political strengths,” said Mr Butler.

“Yet within most unionist councils where there is a unionist majority, such as Lisburn and Antrim, unionists still seem to be incapable or unwilling to work in partnership with Sinn Féin.”

After nationalists were again excluded from positions on Lisburn and other unionist-dominated councils, Mr Butler called for legislation to put the d’Hondt principles into force to ensure that positions of civic leadership on councils are shared, and that voting procedures in local councils included safeguards for minorities.

He said some unionist politicians “show no sign of embracing the new politics of equality and power-sharing promised” in the Good Friday Agreement and described the practices of Lisburn council as “shameful”.

“Lisburn council’s unionists practice a system of political apartheid, refusing to share power with their nationalist counterparts and, in the process, ride roughshod over the principles of equality and parity of esteem, which are meant to be the hallmark of this post-Good Friday Agreement era,” he added.

© 2007 Irish Republican News