Parties have ‘every right’ to top posts

Councillor Noreen McClelland
Councillor Noreen McClelland

NATIONALIST representatives on Newtownabbey Borough Council have hit out at the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party over what they claim is the unwillingness of some councillors to share power.

DUP representatives, who occupy the majority of seats on the council, took most of the Committee Chair and Vice-Chair posts at the council’s AGM on June 6, with all but one of the remaining roles going to Alliance and UUP representatives.

DUP alderman Victor Robinson was elected Mayor, while the UUP’s Fraser Agnew took the Deputy’s role.

Following the 2009 annual meeting, during which DUP and UUP councillors took all available posts, several members made complaints to the council and the Equality Commission claiming that non-unionist councillors were being discriminated against on political and religious grounds. And although that claim was denied, similar allegations have been levied against some local unionist politicians again this year.

Neither of the borough’s two Sinn Fein representatives were appointed to committee posts at the AGM, and councillor Gerry O’Reilly branded the election process “a wasted opportunity.”

“We have been working hard and have good relations in the council, but when it comes to electing posts there are some who do not want to see nationalists taking any positions,” he commented.

The SDLP’s Noreen McClelland, who was appointed Chair of the Audit Committee, which only meets a few times each year, echoed Mr O’Reilly’s claim.

“I believe there is a willingness among quite a number of councillors to share power, but the difficulty is there is still a group who feel, for whatever reason, that power sharing is not an option. What we now have in council are five political groups each of whom, I think, have every right to be elected Chair, Vice-Chair, Mayor or Deputy Mayor and I feel we as a council need to be working towards this,” she told the Times.

Responding to his colleagues’ comments, Mayor Victor Robinson said: “Sinn Fein are just back on the council, so we are still getting to know them and it takes time to build up relationships.

“The DUP are the biggest party and we represent the most people in Newtownabbey, so it follows in a democratic society that we are going to get the majority of the committee posts.

“I don’t have a problem sharing with anyone, so if other people on the council are keen on certain committee posts then they should come to us and talk to us and our party will listen.”