The hand of history gripped Banbridge district on Friday when, as expected, the SDLP and Sinn Fein settled in at the top table for the last year of Banbridge District Council.
The SDLP’s Marie Hamilton succeeded Ulster Unionist Olive Mercer as Chairman while, in a first for both party and district, Sinn Fein’s Paul Gribben donned the Vice-Chairman’s chain relinquished by an unavoidably absent DUP Councillor Hazel Gamble.
In a gesture that drew some derision from elsewhere in the chamber, the DUP group divorced itself from proceedings, Councillor Junior McCrum announcing he and his party colleagues would take no part in filling the top posts.
However, with only a single nominee for each post, in line with established formula, no actual vote was required.
Proposed by party colleague Councillor Seamus Doyle, himself a former chairman, newcomer Councillor Hamilton, who was elected to council in 2011, was seconded by Alliance’s Councillor Sheila McQuaid.
A “delighted” and “extremely proud” Councillor Hamilton said: “It will be a very significant and historical time for Banbridge District Council as we prepare to enter into a new era of local government and I look forward to working alongside Councillor Gribben for the benefit of the entire district.”
“I would like to thank Councillor Olive Mercer for her sterling work over the past year. I promise to perform the duties of the role with the same dedication and enthusiasm as my predecessor.”
Having emerged as Sinn Fein’s nominee after discussions centred on his own and colleague, Councillor Brendan Curran’s, new supercouncil commitments, Councillor Gribben was installed as Vice-Chairman with a cheer for “changing attitudes”. That came from Sinn Fein group leader Mr Curran, who proposed Mr Gribben, with Councillor Seamus Doyle seconding.
“Councillor Pól Ó Gribín has created history tonight by being elected to serve as Vice-chair in the final year of the old Banbridge Council,” said Mr Curran.
“Pól, who represents the Gargory ward, will no doubt represent all the people of the council area in a fair and equal manner.
“Banbridge Council was a traditionally Unionist-controlled Council so it is good to see attitudes changing and senior roles within Council being distributed in a fairer manner.”