Transition for Sinn Fein, upheaval for SDLP

A political transition is underway at Belfast city council, with four long-serving councillors standing down and the Lavery and Maskey political dynasties no longer represented at City Hall.


Veteran Sinn Fein councillors Tom Hartley, Danny Lavery and Gerard O’Neill are calling an end to their council careers, while ‘rising star’ Conor Maskey is also stepping down.

Their departures come before next year’s council elections and plans to reduce the number of councils from 26 to 11, resulting in 120 fewer council seats.

Loyalist Hugh Smyth, who is in his seventies, is also retiring after holding the post of city councillor for the Shankill area for four decades.

Former mayor Tom Hartley was elected to Belfast City Council in 1993 while Upper Falls councillor Gerard O’Neill was initially co-opted in 1998.

Oldpark councillor and former deputy lord mayor Danny Lavery has been part of Belfast City Council since May 1997.

Mr Lavery said his time on the council had been very enjoyable.

“I have enjoyed helping my constituents the best I could. I would like to thank people for voting me in,” he said.

Colleague Conor Maskey said he was standing down for personal reasons.

“With mixed emotions I’m stepping aside from council role... Loved ones must come first,” he tweeted.

The departures means that Belfast City Council will be without a member of the Maskey or Lavery families for the first time in 30 years.

As well as being a councillor and former Sinn Fein chairman, Mr Hartley is also a keen historian who conducts tours of Belfast City Cemetery.

Commenting on his departure, he said: “For me there has been no greater honour than for me to be elected by the community I was born in to.

“Representing the Mid Falls has been a profound part of my life and the greatest honour.”


Meanwhile, the smaller nationalist SDLP are said to be in chaos following the resignation of ‘rising star’ Conall McDevitt from politics.

Mr McDevitt made the decision to step down with immediate effect on Wednesday after failing to declare a #6,750 payment he received from a PR company.

His departure marks the culmination of the latest in a long series of financial scandals to cast a cloud over the Stormont Assembly.

SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell has said the party is “in a state of grief” following the resignation. He said that he had seen Mr McDevitt as a potential successor, as had others.

Mr McDevitt said he would not be returning to public life in the future. In a series of emotional interviews, he said that stepping aside was “the most honourable thing to do”.

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