DIVISIONS in Craigavon Borough Council were reflected last Wednesday night when unionists refused to back the d’Hondt mechanism for electing the future Mayors, and nationalists voted against treating local Gulf and Afghanistan veterans to a charity dinner in Belfast.
The moves towards d’Hondt were mooted by Sinn Fein’s Johnny McGibbon who proposed that they should be written into the council’s standing orders which were discussed in a recent committee meeting without agreement, and then moved to the full council meeting.
Mr McGibbon pointed out that his party was the second largest in the council with eight members among the 26, but had never held the post of mayor or deputy - they were always excluded and therefore it should be written into standing orders “to give every party its chance”.
The council has just two years remaining before it is due to be subsumed into the so-called A-B-C ‘super council’ of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, when the d’Hondt principles will become law - Armagh already uses them.
Councillor Kenneth Twyble (UUP) said there was no need to include the d’Hondt principles in Craigavon’s standing orders, while the DUP’s Stephen Moutray (DUP) agreed. But he, as an MLA, was branded “a hypocrite” by Mr McGibbon and his colleagues Gemma McKenna, who stated he could work with Martin McGuinness at Stormont, where d’Hondt was law.
Mr. Moutray replied there was a different system in Stormont and that Craigavon was not suited to having a SF mayor or deputy, and after further debate it was agreed on a 15-11 vote to exclude d’Hondt from the standing orders.
Later, an invitation to a charity dinner organised by Belfast-based Afghanistan veteran Andy Allen - who lost both legs and was blinded in the war - was tabled, with Councillor Robert Smith proposing that Craigavon should take a table at a cost of £500 and send local veterans of the Gulf and Afghanistan wars. He added they should be chosen by the various branches of the Royal British Legion in the borough.
Again, the voting was along unionist-nationalist lines, and Mr Smith said he was dismayed that SDLP and Sinn Fein could not support the gesture. He added, “Obviously everything British is anathema to them, and they showed just why they should not be given the top posts - they are not capable of representing everyone.”
Only three nationalists have ever held the post of Craigavon Mayor - Hugh Casey, an Independent Nationalist in 1996 and two SDLP - Dolores Kelly and Ignatius Fox - at the turn of the millennium.
SF council group leader, Mr McGibbon, said, “The review of council rules and regulations under standing orders was the second opportunity within a year for council to address the issue of power sharing. Foolishly the DUP and UUP have again excluded the roles of mayor and deputy mayor from the respected method of D’Hondt, even though council already use it to allocate other positions.
“By continuing this tactic to exclude Sinn Féín from the top posts, unionist politicians are showing an absurd lack of political leadership and foresight. The image of Craigavon sent out to the community, to the business world, to people who might visit the borough - is that Craigavon is a place not to go to, that it is in a time warp.”
“This decision does nothing for the benefit of Craigavon. Leadership and power sharing can.”
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