A County Tyrone council has become the first local authority in the North to declare its official support for Irish unity.
The unusual declaration was taken during Omagh District Council’s February meeting held earlier this week after a motion was tabled by Sinn Féin.
Unionists who sit on the nationalist-controlled council reacted angrily to the motion during a heated debate on Tuesday night.
The controversial motion was eventually carried by nine votes to six.
It is understood one SDLP councillor failed to show up for the unity motion showdown, while the party’s remaining two councillors left the chamber before the motion was debated.
However, the SDLP tomorrow launches a major cross-border agenda, ostensibly with a view to the ongoing talks, but clearly with a view to a possible Assembly election in the North. In a response to Sinn Féin’s more moderate cross--border policies, the SDLP has proposed that the 26 Counties and the Six Counties share police, healthcare and criminal justice services.
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin’s Mitchel Mclaughlin has said that the two parties were approaching consensus on building areas of North-South co-operation. However, that co-operation was little in evidence in the vote at Omagh council.
Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff said: “Omagh District Council has, as one corporate voice, asked the Taoiseach to appoint a minister of state to drive forward a united Ireland agenda and have the matter referred to a joint committee of the Oireachtas.
“Despite having formal notice of the motion none of the SDLP’s councillors were present for the motion debate. Two of the councillors left the chamber before the motion debate commenced. I hope this doesn’t indicate a return by the SDLP to their post nationalist policy because at leadership level the party is expressly in favour of a unity Ireland.
“We would like the SDLP and Fianna Fail to accompany us in this journey because it is about bringing about a unity Ireland. I am pleased that a local authority has spoken out and declared for a united Ireland.
“For years unionists have called on republicans to go down a democratic road. What can be more democratic than a council vote like this? This message will undoubtedly be reinforced when this motion is debated in Strabane District Council next Tuesday.
“We can no longer be treated as second-class Irish citizens in our own country and the primary onus is on An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his administration to bring us into a new era of equality and to begin to take a lead in planning for unity.”
It is expected that Strabane District Council will follow Omagh by supporting the Irish unity motion when it is raised at next week’s monthly meeting.