THERE was controversy in 1977 when the new Mayor of Craigavon was elected.
It was expected that the Deputy Mayor, Alderman Herbert Whitten, would step up to become First Citizen.
But in a surprise move Alderman Whitten’s Unionist Party colleague Councillor Sydney Cairns was proposed by Alliance’s Councillor Brian English.
When the vote was taken the Official Unionists sided with Alderman Whitten but the DUP, UUUP, Alliance and SDLP joined together to vote Councillor Cairns into office by 12 votes to ten.
It was a shock for all those in the council chamber, even for the new Mayor, who said: “Never did I realise I would be in this seat today.”
In his thank you speech he said: “All I can say it was not my desire to be in this chair this year but apparently many people thought it time I occupied it.
“I will give no favours to anyone in this chamber but I pledge in the coming year I will treat everyone in fairness and everyone will get a chance to express their opinions.”
But there was anger among his Official Unionist colleagues with Councillor Frank Dale declaring that Mayor Cairns would have a ‘rough ride’ over the next 12 months.
“We will be taking steps to see that he is severely reprimanded, if not expelled, by the party,” he added.
Westminster MP said the UUP and DUP had offended thousands of loyalists who wanted Alderman Whitten to become Mayor.
The Alliance Party member, Councillor Brian English, was elected as Deputy Mayor.
And it was the SDLP who managed to wreck Unionist unity.
They knew that the Official Unionists needed their support to get Alderman Whitten elected.
But having secretly learned that the name of Councillor Cairns was to go forward they decided to vote for Cairns.
And the ploy worked with the two Unionist groups not speaking to each other.
“We set out to widen the rift,” said an SDLP spokesman. “We certainly were not going to propose Cairns but when the DUP presented us with the chance of supporting the ‘unofficial’ Official Unionist against another we jumped at the chance. We even surprised the DUP.”