Democracy still on hold in some local councils
Amid protests over continuing sectarianism in unionist-controlled councils, an Ulster Unionist councillor has said “pigs will fly” before there is a Sinn Fein mayor of Antrim.
Although most local councils in the north of Ireland have adopted a power-sharing arrangement to rotate the top positions between parties, a number of unionist-dominated councils still refuse to share power with Sinn Fein.
UUP councillor Adrian Cochrane-Watson has said that despite Sinn Fein being the largest nationalist party with four representatives on Antrim council, it will never get the post of Mayor or Deputy Mayor.
“The deputy mayor won’t be Sinn Fein. It could be the Ulster Unionists or the SDLP but it won’t be Sinn Fein,” he said.
“As for mayor, pigs will fly before Antrim allows a Sinn Fein mayor. Yes, it’s totally undemocratic but I’ll never promote Sinn Fein. I don’t think they are fit for public office.”
His comments come after a row in Craigavon where Sinn Fein is threatening legal action after education minister John O’Dowd’s sister-in-law Mairead failed to get elected mayor, despite getting the most votes.
And in Newtownabbey, Sinn Fein’s two councillors were excluded from holding any positions on the council while the SDLP’s sole representative was given a committee chair.
Annemarie Logue, one of the four Sinn Fein councillors in Antrim, said Mr Cochrane-Watson’s comments were “disgusting”.
“There’s no such thing as powersharing on Antrim council when it comes to civic leadership,” she said.
“Every year the unionists block Sinn Fein from getting in and throw crumbs to the Alliance and SDLP,”
A row is also brewing at Castlereagh Council where on Monday the cross-community Alliance party’s bid for mayor was blocked. But some progress was reported in other councils, with Ballymena electing its first nationalist mayor -- the SDLP’s PJ McAvoy.
Unionist-dominated Ards Borough Council also elected its only SDLP member,Joe Boyle to a committee chairmanship for the first time.
The UUP has moved to distance itself from Cochrane-Watson’s comments. The party said he had appeared on BBC without the press office’s permission last week.
The UUP was also forced to distance itself this week from former MP Ken Maginnis after he described same-sex marriage as “unnatural”.
Maginnis, a ‘Lord’ at Westminster and a strong supporter of current party leader Mike Nesbitt, went further, comparing homosexuality to bestiality.
“Will the next thing be that we legislate for some sort of bestiality?” he asked, during BBC Radio’s Nolan Show.
Alliance chief whip Stewart Dickson has called on Mr Nesbitt to take disciplinary action, and said the comparison was “outrageous”.
“Mike Nesbitt has tried to paint the UUP in a new light but the comments from one of his party’s peers will show that if you scratch the surface the UUP is still the same old party with views that do not belong in the 21st century.”
RUN AWAY LEADER
Sinn Fein Assembly member Mitchel McLaughlin accused UUP leader, Mike Nesbitt of “running away” from a commitment to power-sharing after Nesbitt called an extraordinary meeting of the UUP policy making body -- but only to affirm its position on gay marriage.
“There would be no need for such an extraordinary meeting if the UUP would just commit itself to the principle of equality for all,” Mr McLaughlin said.
“I challenged Mike Nesbitt to address the issue of power-sharing on the basis of equality following offensive sectarian remarks by his party colleague, Antrim Councillor Adrian Watson.
“To date the UUP leader has avoided the issue. Will he now take the opportunity at this extraordinary policy making body meeting to affirm his party’s commitment to power-sharing, including at local government level on the basis of equality?
“I am sure that many in our society will be interested to hear Mr Nesbitt’s position on equality.”