There were angry exchanges in the council chamber tonight (Monday) as Banbridge councillors fought to establish their respective grasp of ’simple mathematics’ and their ABCs.
Councillors Seamus Doyle and John Hanna were the principal protagonists and their fierce fencing at one point moved Chairman, Councillor Olive Mercer, to warn that the August monthly meeting might have to be adjourned.
Up for discussion was council chief executive Liam Hannaway’s report and recommendations for nominating councillors to sit on the Statutory Transition Committee, a step on the road towards the Armagh Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) so-called super-council due to be established under the Review of Public Admninistration.
The task facing councillors, ahead of selecting those among them who would sit on the STC, was to agree an approved ‘proportional’ means of nomination. On behalf of the dominant Ulster Unionist group, Dromore’s Councillor Carol Black proposed the D’Hondt System, under which the UUP would, and eventually did, take the lion’s share of seats, closely followed by the DUP, to the exclusion of all non-Unionist members on council.
The SDLP’s Mr Doyle opposed the proposal, on the grounds that, as he saw it, the outworking of D’Hondt would not meet the requirement that nominations should properly reflect the political composition of the existing councils as determined in the 2011 elections; he counter-proposed that the council employ its own proportional selection methodology, already green-lit by the minister, or another of the approved methods.
Having long supported the principal of D’Hondt, Sinn Fein, said the party’s Brendan Curran, would continue to do so. “Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose,” he said. “That’s the way it goes,”
Mr. Curran’s hopes that Banbridge councillors would not end up with bad feelings over the issue at hand quickly appeared to have been dashed.
Councillor Marie Hamnilton of the SDLP stressed that she had no difficulty with D’Hondt and fully understood the unionist proposal, recognising they were well within their rights, but she personally was saddened and disappointed, she said, that the end result would be an STC without any non-Unionist representation from the Banbridge component of the planned new authority.
A determined Mr Doyle, howver, said of the Ulster Unionist proposal, seconded by Councillor Ian Burns and later carried with 12 votes in favour, as opposed to the two votes cast for Mr Doyle’s counter-proposal, that in his 23 years on council he had never seen a decision so “biased”.
The UUP’s Mr Hanna mounted an impassioned defence of the group’s proposal, insisting not only that the Ulster Unionists were for once taking their “fair and equal representation”, but that they would fight, as they always had fought, for Banbridge district, fairly representing everyone; direct proportionality, he said, would have yielded the same result as D’Hondt.
Accused by Mr Doyle of putting up a smokescreen, a strident Mr Hanna insisted it was no such thing, but rather “simple, straightforward and direct mathematics” and he called for an apology from Mr Doyle, who instead stuck by his words. The subsequent exchange finally saw Mr Doyle abandon further comment on the grounds that it was hard to speak, he said, when Councillor Hanna was so “intolerant” and prone to interruption.
The Ulster Unionists having won the day on D’Hondt, they nominated Councillors Joan Baird, John Hanna and Carol Black to sit on the STC, while the DUP nominated Councillors Junior McCrum and Paul Rankin.