This week’s Ulster Star cover story proclaims:
Bigotry ‘alive and well’ on city council
‘Bigotry and discrimination are alive and well on Lisburn City Council’, it has been claimed in the wake of the Council’s Annual General Meeting.
Both the Alliance Party and Sinn Fein have hit out after the DUP took the two top posts on Council – with the deputy mayor’s election particularly contentious.
Lisburn City Council tends to follow the pattern of allowing this year’s deputy mayor to become the first citizen the next year. So 2012/13 mayor William Leathem (DUP) handed over his chain of office to 2012/13 deputy Margaret Tolerton (DUP) who became the 2013/14 mayor. And another DUP councillor – Andrew Ewing – became the new 2013/14 deputy mayor and the next in line for the big job next June.
That would be three DUP mayors in a row, and seven DUP mayors in ten years.
Unlike many other councils – and unlike the NI Executive and NI Assembly – Lisburn City Council does not use d’Hondt* to allocate council jobs.
The current strength of the parties is shown (figures in brackets show the strength immediately after the last election):
- DUP 15 (14)
- Sinn Fein 4 (5)
- UUP 4 (5)
- Alliance 3
- SDLP 3 (3)
- Independent 1 (0)
Quoted in Julie-Ann Spence’s article in the Ulster Star, Sinn Fein Councillor Arder Carson pointed out that at the AGM his party had been “denied any formal positions” for 2013/14 and “the DUP on the other hand have awarded themselves 10 out of the 12 official council positions”.
With Sinn Fein councillors first voted onto Lisburn Council in 1985, after nearly three decades of participation no Sinn Fein councillor has held the position of mayor or deputy mayor. And in that time the party has only ever chaired two council committees, one in 2011 and another in 2012.
Given the DUP’s near control of the council, do they have any reason to bow to letsgetalongism and include other parties?
The first paragraph of Lisburn City Council’s Equality Policy does state that under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (the Act), the council is required to comply with two statutory duties:
Section 75 (1) – In carrying out our functions relating to Northern Ireland we are required to have due regard to the need to promote equality of opportunity between
persons of different religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status or sexual orientation
men and women generally
persons with a disability and persons without
persons with dependants and persons without.
Section 75 (2) – In addition, without prejudice to the obligations above, in carrying out our functions in relation to Northern Ireland we are required to have regard to the desirability of promoting good relations between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group. [emphasis added]
The current land grab seems well outside the spirit of promoting equality of opportunity and promoting good relations between the parties on council.
Given the election of five Sinn Fein councillors in 2011 – before Councillor Angela Nelson quit the party in July 2012 over Martin McGuinness’ handshake with the Queen [though she is still listed on the West Belfast Sinn Fein website!] – Arder Carson reckons:
… had d’Hondt been enacted, the party would be entitled to the position of Chair and Vice Chair of a committee each year, along with one year as Mayor of Lisburn.
Instead the DUP seem to throw an occasional bone to the UUP, Alliance and even the SDLP, while keeping Sinn Fein out of power.
Back in May 2011, just before the SDLP councillor Brian Heading was voted in as Mayor, Sinn Fein councillor Arden Carson unsuccessfully raised the question of using d’Hondt. No doubt Sinn Fein’s nose was out of joint given that the smaller SDLP was getting a crack at the mayor’s job. Council minutes note:
At this juncture Councillor A Carson proposed that prior to consideration of the business on the agenda for the Annual Meeting of Council, the Council introduce formally the D’Hondt system for the appointment of positions on the Council.
Councillor S P Porter (Outgoing Mayor) stated that as Councillor A Carson’s proposal had not been submitted as a Notice of Motion to the Council prior to the Meeting, the proposal could not be considered.
Up on the hill, DUP will share power with Sinn Fein with hardly any grated teeth on show. On Belfast City Council, the DUP benefit from using d’Hondt to share out council positions throughout the council term. In Lisburn, the DUP seemingly hoard positions and wield power, a bit like a child grabbing all the toys and unwilling to play with its peers.
It’s not only Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein councillors that lose out on official council positions. The DUP’s fellow unionist brethren – the UUP – do badly in the mayoral stakes too. So it is perhaps notable that UUP councillor Brian Bloomfield voted in favour last week of the Alliance nomination along with SDLP ex-mayor Brian Heading.
Another UUP councillor Ronnie Crawford abstained as did SDLP councillors John Drake and Pat Catney (who was later ‘allowed’ to be chair of Corporate Service Committee).
Quoted in the Ulster Star, Alliance councillor Brian Dornan expressed his disappointment:
… that yet again the DUP have refused to accept power sharing in Lisburn Council. They have no problems with it at the Assembly so why can’t they agree to it in Lisburn?
Given that the Ulster Star headline was a quote from Sinn Fein councillor Arder Carson rather than Alliance’s Brian Dornan, the choice of photograph on the front cover is unfortunate.
Arder Carson was forthright in Sinn Fein’s press release:
While other councils across the north are moving forward such as Banbridge and Coleraine, Lisburn is still firmly stuck in the dark ages as a fiefdom for the DUP and bigotry.
Is this the politics of panic? Revenge over the flag issue? Bullying? Discrimination? Or naked sectarianism?
Speaking to me last night, Arden Carson said he planned to pursue the potential breach of the council’s equality policy and summed up the city:
Lisburn is a unionist council for unionist people and a city of political discrimination!
Surely time for Lisburn’s DUP councillors to start listening to their party leader’s words about Cohesion, Sharing and Integration. Those three words seem in short supply inside the Lisburn council chamber.
* Back in November 2008 – and against the advice of the Council’s chief executive – it did suddenly switch to use d’Hondt to allocate seats to parties on the Castlereagh/Lisburn Transition Committee. Given the small number of seats, this change of practice excluded the SDLP from representation on the committee. The Equality Commission found that the Council had “unilaterally and without consultation decided to forgo its previous policy, arrived at through equality impact assessment” and recommended that it apply its agreed policy which “[promoted] social inclusion”.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.