Unionism’s Anti-Power Sharing ‘Present’

Mick has already posted a piece regarding Peter Robinson’s comments about his party’s traditional attitude to power-sharing with nationalists.

Ironically, the past twenty-four hours have once again brought news of political unionism’s continuing hostility to the notion of inclusive power-sharing with their nationalist neighbours in unionist majority councils across the north of Ireland- some 14 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement heralded the onset of all-inclusive power sharing structures at Stormont.

Craigavon Council last night became the scene for an intriguing row after a split unionist vote enabled the Sinn Fein candidate for mayor, Mairead O’Dowd, to top the poll in the election contest. The unionist representatives then decided to eliminate the last candidate, UUP’s Arnold Hatch, to the consternation of nationalist representatives, who have sought legal advice over the manoeuvre. The majority unionist council has had only three non-unionist mayors in 39 years of its existence, and none for the past nine years.

Regardless of the outcome of that development, the incident once again highlighted the contradictory stance of the local unionist political parties on the issue of power-sharing with their nationalist neighbours- something which obviously sits uncomfortably with benign interpretations of Peter Robinson’s comments on   Hearts and Minds and elsewhere.

Craigavon DUP councillor, Woolsey Smith, is reported in The Irish News as saying that his party would not be prepared to accept power-sharing on the council until Sinn Fein “proved itself a democratic party.”

Here’s more from Woolsey Smith:

When Sinn Fein prove they are peace-loving and able to share power properly and not want to be in control of everything then we might be prepared to consider a power-sharing method.

Of course, Craigavon is not unique. In terms of excluding the major voice of northern nationalists from the highest position in local civic offices, Sinn Fein, the unionist-controlled councils of Lisburn, Newtownabbey, Antrim and Ballymoney can be added to the list alongside Craigavon.

Perhaps most interestingly, it is instructive to remember how DUP councillors in Peter Robinson’s stronghold of Castlereagh acted within hours of the 2011 local government election results to shut out not only nationalists but the Alliance Party by forming a pan-unionist alliance with the Ulster Unionist Party.


  • RyanAdams

    Chris, I am intrigued as to how under Sinn Feins preferred method of d’hondt, They would be entitled to a mayoral position in Newtownabbey with a grand total of 2/26 seats. There’s power sharing and then there’s downright disrespect for the ballot box.

  • redhugh78

    and there’s totally avoiding the main point of a thread for no other reason than to divert attention away from the fact that if unionists have the numbers they still can’t help themselves from their inherent tendency to choose the ‘not a fenian (unless a token sdlp) about the place’ option.

  • john

    At least Ballymena finally has a nationalist mayor allbeit a few decades late

  • keano10

    The whole Craigavon situation is shocking, quite frankly. Before Robinson can even pretend to genuinely reach out a hand to Catholics, he must get his own house in order first.

    Does the DUP not have any central control or influence over its own councillors or do they simply lack the will to take them ob?

    Either way, it reduces Peter Robinson’s policy to a complete shambles. Sometimes it’s time to put up or shut up. The DUP have failed to show any leadership on this so I’d rather not hear anymore of Robinson’s bull regarding his intentions towards the wider Catholic Community…

  • Dec

    It’s worth noting that Robinson was promptly tweeting congratulations to the new DUP mayor in Craigavon.

  • Neil

    Either way, it reduces Peter Robinson’s policy to a complete shambles.

    Or exposes it for what it actually is. A whole lotta nothin’.

  • lamhdearg2

    “Regardless of the outcome of that development”

    would this line be in response to

    “Councillors did not have a role in the mechanics of the elections. This was a matter for the chief executive and council officials”.

  • lamhdearg2

    “Here’s more from Woolsey Smith:”
    “When Sinn Fein prove they are peace-loving and able to share power properly and not want to be in control of everything then we might be prepared to consider a power-sharing method.”

    is Mr Smith wrong on this? if so, then “none in the last nine years” is indeed wrong, in a council with such a split (13 to 11?).

  • lamhdearg2

    Ballymena Borough Council has elected PJ McAvoy (Irish nationalist ,SDLP) as its mayor.
    The SDLP councillor, has served as deputy mayor four times
    Mr McAvoy said he was “humbled” and added it would send out a message to the community about working together.
    His newly elected DUP deputy mayor, Beth Adger confirmed that his election was “unanimous” and added that she looked forward to working with the SDLP representative in his new role

    Mr McAvoy, added: “I must say it’s very good, the way the DUP is 50% of this council, but yet they saw fit to give me this honour tonight, so that in itself says a lot.”

    This seems not to fit with the subplot of this thread.

  • ranger1640

    Why is sinn fein’s Chris getting so wound up about alleged Unionist anti power sharing. According to the shinner handbook (which he obviously has not got the latest copy off. As its rewritten every other week to fit in with their current position and revisionism) Unionists in this occasion, Unionist Councillors are victims. And the councillors are obviously still trying to come to terms with their new found shinner imposed victim-hood, and they are taking time to adjust.

    Chris, give these new Unionist victims time to adjust and I’m sure you won’t find them wanting.

  • MrPMartin

    Never mind the altruistic utterances of party leaders esp. SF but take a look at the activities of SF on the ground at local level. For example in Tyrone recently SF organised a ‘freedom walk’ ie hillwalking in commemoration to murderers. How can any Protestant who lives in suh an area be assured that SF are a normal democratic party when they STILL think what the PIRA did was a good thing.

    Also can someone explain what is meant today by ‘peace process’? All processes have an endpoint or final aim. When do we stop having a peace process and become a normal democracy? Is SF only wedded to peace as long as they think as UI is in the offing? It would be interesting to see their tack if a border poll was held and the status quo was endorsed by a 2/3 majority – as it would be

    Take a look at any local paper or SF Microsite and you will see all kinds of eyebrow raising lionising of murderers. It’s no wonder ordinary unionists have put SF in the quarantine. Peter Robinson has been subjected to IvoryTower-itis I fear.

  • SK

    “This seems not to fit with the subplot of this thread.”


    Well, no, that’s because it’s blatant whataboutery.

    Things are undoubtedly moving forward. But attitudes like those outlined above, coupled with the inevitable “anyone but a nationalist” voting pacts that that are now a fixture of every major election, not to mention the aborted UUP/DUP linkup demonstrate that unionist politicians still have a fair bit of evolving to do.

  • cynic2

    ‘not a fenian (unless a token sdlp) about the place’

    So its not about power sharing with nationalists generally (the SDLP being the wrong kind of Nationalists) from your standpoint

  • Comrade Stalin

    Neither unionists nor nationalists are especially good at reaching across the divide in cases where one or other camp dominates a council. But since we are reading an article from a Sinn Féin activist giving a lecture, it might be conducive to examine the nationalist record on this matter.

    On Newry and Mourne, which is overwhelmingly nationalist controlled, there has only been one unionist elected mayor in the past ten years. That’s one better than the unionist record in Newtownabbey (where the proportions of councillors are reversed), where the unionists had trouble even getting behind a non-nationalist Catholic, but hardly an example of a clear effort to reach across the divide.

    On Strabane district council SF are the same size as all the other parties put together and there has been a nationalist majority since 1997. I don’t recall there ever being a unionist chairperson there. Likewise Limavady, which has had a nationalist majority for 20 years. I don’t have details for Omagh but since this is the first DUP chairman there, I’ll guess that the nationalist majority there haven’t elected a unionist chair at any point in recent history.

    The record on Derry is rather better – 25% of the mayors over the past 12 years have been unionist which exceeds the unionist proportion of councillors.I guess part of this is because the council is SDLP-dominated and its two party leaders have held the local Westminster seat, so it wouldn’t look too good if the party was seen to be systematically excluding unionists. But it is nonetheless an anomaly.

    I’m glad that things are moving forward and there have been some improvements this year, but nobody is in a position to get on a high horse here. Nationalists may have made occasional tokenistic gestures but there is no consistent record. In particular I can see no evidence of any Sinn Féin dominated rural councils ever making a habit of nominating a unionist for the mayor or chairperson position.

  • Roy Walsh

    What I find disconcerting is the under reporting of this,
    an Phoblacht did so 4 hours ago, the Lurgan Mail 2 days ago, the BBC yesterday put it onto their news webpage.
    The actions of Unionist representatives I find not in the least surprising, this is an historically divided area, taking in Drumcree, Kilwilkee the Tunnel and Obins St and I think the diamond, the thing about the DUP is, while not universally democratic they do listen to their base, here is one of their strongest, the future will resolve the matter as Nationalist representation has grown, though TUV are also making inroads here, but Unionism retains a six vote majority on the council for now and the Woolsey Smiths and Arnold Hatch’s, who came to prominence during the troubled 1980’s in the area will maintain the no taig stance for so long as they’re in control.

  • sonofstrongbow

    As has already been noted the green plank does tend to obscure vision. Does ‘hypocrisy’ translate into Sinn Fein Irish?

  • Comrade Stalin

    What I find disconcerting is the under reporting of this,

    It’s not really a massive big deal. Councils have very little real power (bin/waste collections/landfill, graveyards, running leisure centres), and the chairperson/mayor by himself has very little power within the council. Some people very foolishly think that councils have the power to deal with planning applications. They don’t. They also don’t deal with roads, schools etc in the way that they do in England.

    And like I said, the fact that the people controlling a council generally tend to screw the people who are not is not a news item, and it is not a problem specific to unionism despite the howls of discrimination we are hearing here and elsewhere.

    That is not to say that I think the DUP were right to act as they did in Craigavon. They were wrong, and now the taxpayer is going to incur a significant five-figure sum due to a judicial review which Sinn Féin have every right to take. Given that they are happily participating in power sharing at Stormont, the justification that SF are not yet sufficiently democratic to help out with managing bin collections or running graveyards or leisure centres is self-evidently manifest nonsense serving as a rather pathetic figleaf over those councillors and their refusal to bring themselves into the 21st century.

  • Chris Donnelly

    C Stalin
    Uncharacteristically poorly researched comments there.

    I’ve only spent a couple of minutes googling but was able to come up with several examples to disprove your contention regarding majority nationalist councils:

    Omagh District Council: Errol Thompson DUP Chairperson 2012; Allain Rainey was UUP Chairperson during 2003/04 but can’t find any direct link to list of mayors before or after.

    Magherafelt District Council: Sinn Fein controlled council, using d’hondt to allocate senior council posts (DUP Chairperson Ian McCrea in 2007/08)

    Strabane District Council has operated d’Hondt since 2005. Can’t find any list of Mayors though note Russ Hussey was deputy recently.

    Limavady District Council has used d’hondt for years.

    Indeed, this council was the setting for the rather ironic development of unionists claiming discrimination because they objected to the manner in which d’Hondt was being run in the council (of course, the fact that they reject its use at all on unionist majority councils is but an inconvenient fact….)


    On your response to Roy Walsh’s comments above, it becomes a ‘big deal’ when some attempt is made to suggest there is a genuine dialogue taking place within political unionism regarding attitudes to power-sharing with their nationalist neighbours and shifting to new ground where a respect for the legitimacy of the Irish nationalist tradition can be found within political unionism.

    Oh, and this post came too early for the comments carried in today’s Irish News by an Antrim UUP councillor that “pigs would fly” before unionists would allow a Sinn Fein mayor in the 40% catholic borough.

    “Pigs will fly before Antrim allows a Sinn Fein mayor. Yes it’s totally undemocratic but I’ll never promote Sinn Fein. I don’t think they are fit for public office.”- Cllr Adrian Cochrane Watson

    Wonder did Mike Nesbitt take that message with him to Dublin this week …..

  • Roy Walsh

    CS, you miss my point, the under reporting of the matter in a constituency, containing two large conurbations and a sizeable in-fill is questionable, were this Belfast or Derry the press would be all over it but, despite the fact that people live in locations other than the two above shows the bias of media.
    Re: the point on councillors lack of power, this is irrelevant as they are public servants, paid from the public purse to represent, and, where the big council in Dundonald can share power, and as Chris points out, so do majority nationalist councils, the excess of traditional Unionist culture are making the SF case for them, the minority will change and, as nationalist children grow seeing the same extremism their parents did, so their outlook will be shaped.
    Go raibh maith agat Chris.

  • Roy, you think the Craigavon story has been under-reported and this proves the `bias of the media’ . However, it was the lead story in the Irish News on Friday, accompanied by another full page inside and an editorial. The BBC followed this up on Good Morning Ulster and also ran a reasonably comprehensive piece online. This looks like a serious response from two of the main outlets – do you disagree ?

  • Roy Walsh

    oldhack, yes, were it the two cities the story would have ran for days, the piece on-line does not mention the view of the Cllr. who failed and does not mention were her views sought by this media, again, were it Derry or Belfast councils this story would have had coverage for days, the ‘second’ biggest show in the country would have spent an hour reporting it so again, yes I disagree though I did miss the Irish News yesterday so thanks for that.

  • Dec

    ‘On Strabane district council… I don’t recall there ever being a unionist chairperson there.’

    Thomas Kerrigan, DUP?

  • Chris [11.55] All this circling of wagons by unionist councillors is actually encouraging for nationalists as it reveals how the siege mentality is steadily kicking in with unionists as they know the tide of their majority is gradually ebbing away and to paraphrase MacMillan ‘never glad confident morning again’ for unionism. Brian Feeney coined it nicely in his article about the Queen on Wednesday. This is the one part of her kingdom which won’t be fought for in a referendum which would show a nationalist majority or won’t be held until there is one.

  • Mister Joe

    Back in the olden days, Strabane had 12 councillors in three wards. They could probably have swept all of the seats but by convention no “nationalist” ran in one ward allowing 4 “unionists” to be elected. There were quite a few independents.

  • Comrade Stalin


    What I said was that there is “no consistent record” of nationalist gestures in this respect and I don’t think you have disproven that. Examples of gestures exist but they are not consistent. Magherafelt I did not check; but for Omagh you had to go back ten years; two in a ten year period is not proportionate to the number of unionists councillors there. (“not consistent”).

    Don’t forget that nationalists tinker with d’Hondt as well. For example the SDLP opposed the use of d’Hondt in Larne when it was used to exclude them from things (“not consistent” again).

    That’s part of problem I have with the notion (which you seem to be promoting) that operating d’Hondt somehow means that you end up with something that is fair. d’Hondt merely guarantees that the largest groups get a disproportionately large crack of the whip, and that minority groups in the borough receive little or indeed no representation at all. It’s better than straight majoritarianism but it would be much better if parties negotiated and agreed things, particularly agreeing to the importance of gestures.

    The weaknesses of d’Hondt are readily apparent. If it were used on Derry, for example, my rough calculations suggest that Derry would never see a unionist mayor, even though I am sure we both agree that there is a sizeable unionist minority in Derry and it is right that this should be reflected at council level. Likewise, Newtownabbey would never see a nationalist mayor, which continues to be a crying shame.

    There’s something terribly fake and non-genuine if the best a party can do when quizzed on its commitment to sharing is to point to a formula on a piece of paper.

    Regarding the Adrian Watson comment, what do you expect from a pig but a grunt ? The UUP are in their death throes so it no longer matters what a backward homophobic councillor who got kicked off the UCUNF whip over his attitude comes out with.

    On your response to Roy Walsh’s comments above, it becomes a ‘big deal’ when some attempt is made to suggest there is a genuine dialogue taking place within political unionism regarding attitudes to power-sharing with their nationalist neighbours and shifting to new ground where a respect for the legitimacy of the Irish nationalist tradition can be found within political unionism.

    If you mean “The DUP’s sharing policy is bullshit” you can hardly be forgiven, but let’s not try to pretend that this is something they have the copyright on. We’ve been lectured by Sinn Féin for years now on gestures, sharing, dialogue and so on and I’ve yet to see anything solid and sustained from that camp. Occasional measures have been welcome but they usually seem to be a reaction rather than well thought out.

  • pauluk

    I thought PJ McAvoy’s comments as reported in the Telly were very encouraging:

    …Last night Mr McAvoy spoke of his pride that his 92-year-old mother had lived to see his appointment in Ballymena.

    He said: “It is a great honour to have been elected mayor for all of Ballymena. And that is the mayor I intend to be — inclusive, progressive, putting aside the divisions of the past and looking to the future.

    “I know that my election is something of a milestone for the borough, but I believe that is a mark of how far we have come these last few years.”

    He added: “I look forward to the year ahead, representing each and every citizen of the borough and working with both them and my council colleagues to build on Ballymena’s position as a major hub of business and tourism.”

    What a far cry from the moaning and constant complaining of Mr Donnelly.

  • RyanAdams


    The jist of my arguement was that theres power sharing, and thats fine, However theres a point whereby it goes to far and rides rough shot over the top of what the electorate voted for ie Democracy. To illustrate my point over Newtownabbey, Sinn Fein have 2/26 = 1/13. There are four mayorships in a term. So now 1/13 = 1/4?

  • Mister Joe


    I would be interested in what you consider democracy to be. You are perhaps narrowly considering it to be simply majority rule.

  • redhugh78


    your point is irrelevant as SF have consistently called for all councils to implement the D’hont system which divvies up chair and vice chairs of council as well as other council commitees on the strength of a party’s electoral strength.

    SFfor example would not expect to receive a chair of Newtownabbey council or any other council where their councillor number were so low, but what they would then be entitled to would be chair/vice chairs of other council committees over the course of a council term.

  • RyanAdams

    Mister Joe,

    I don’t. I’m for power sharing, and to credit Chris there are several examples named above where certain parties are a significant minority and have been deprived of their rightful place. Sinn Fein in all examples above bar Newtownabbey. In all those councils Sinn Fein have a respectable mandate. If in Newtownabbey you gave Sinn Fein one of the four mayorships, in theory all parties but the SDLP get one. Heres my point – The DUP have six times the number of councillors as Sinn Fein, yet its advocated both should recieve one mayor term? Is that respectful to the mandate of the larger party? I would argue the same for Newry and Mourne, obviously swapping the parties places.

  • cynic2


    I am touched that you think any of this is about democracy

  • Mister Joe

    The majority rule type of democracy didn’t work in N.I. because, principally, it was not accepted by a large percentage of the population. Therefore we needed an indigenous solution to that. For now, that’s power sharing.

  • dodrade

    Could the Craigavon Council spat have been a factor in the Culture minister’s unexpectantly rather petulant attitude to the Stormont Diamond Jubilee party on the Sunday Politics today?

  • ranger1640

    Dodrade, Carol Cullen more petulant than she usually is never???

  • sonofstrongbow

    The Culture Minister is Sinn Fein’s Parody of Esteem policy personified.

    I thought her comment about the Stormont grounds, in the heart of unionist east Belfast, was particularly telling.

  • ranger1640

    Even in the utopian Irish republic the shinners can’t get the mayor job, and not a Unionist in sight.

    The formal pact that existed in Bundoran Town Council between Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin and one Independent Councillor for the last year was in imminent danger on Tuesday evening when Sinn Féin Cllr. Sean Carthy defeated Cllr. Sean McEniff in an election for the Vice Chair of the town.

    In the election for Mayor of the town Cllr. Phillip McGlynn was elected Mayor with no other nominations being received. Cllr. McGlynn was first elected to the Town Council in 2004 and previously held the position of Mayor in 2008.


  • cynic2

    “her comment about the Stormont grounds”

    ….which are technically owned by Sammy who can invite in who he wants. Parliament Buildings is shared and under the control of the Assembly. The rest aint.