Council vice-chair row ‘damages area’s reputation’

BANBRIDGE’S unionist councillors have been accused of damaging the area’s reputation by refusing to back the selection of a Sinn Fein vice-chairman for the year ahead.

That is the feeling of Sinn Fein councillor Brendan Curran who was proposed and seconded as the vice-chair alongside new DUP chairman Junior McCrum at Friday’s council AGM.

The actions of some councillors in preventing any nationalist involvement in the top two council positions for the next 12 months is disappointing according to Mr Curran, but not surprising - and makes the council no better than Craigavon where unionists teamed up to ensure Sinn Fein would not take the Mayoral position.

“The failure of Unionists to accept the package, which would have given us the vice-chair this year, is a missed opportunity to show their commitment to a shared future and puts Banbridge on a par with Craigavon Council.”

Friday’s meeting saw the election of the vice-chairman become a thorny issue as a DUP counter-proposal was made for Jim McElroy (DUP) to take the position.

A further proposal was then made by the UUP for councillor Liz Ingram (UUP) to take the seat, and she was duly elected as vice-chair following a vote in the chamber.

Under the current power-sharing system Sinn Fein is entitled to one vice-chairmanship in the next three years ahead of the Review of Public Administration.

In total there are two nationalist seats available as the SDLP’s council membership entitles them to the chair position at some stage also.

That means Banbridge council could bow out of existence with nationalists in the top two positions.

Mr Curran said the council has refused to emulate the power-sharing system at Stormont, to the detriment of the area and its reputation among investors.

He said, “Banbridge district needs investment and needs to attract shoppers. Sharing power would have indicated an area where a potential workforce and potential customers could feel at ease regardless of background or tradition. It would have given us a major tool in the battle to reinvigorate the local economy.”

The SDLP’s Seamus Doyle said the situation was regrettable, and hit out at the UUP for “lacking the guts to take on the DUP”.

“There was an agreement that there would be a nationalist in one form or another but the UUP, by electing one of their own party members for the position of vice-chair, fell at the final hurdle.”

Mr Curran added that the council works well together throughout the year, but said party politics were getting in the way at the AGM.

“The position adopted is a reflection of the ongoing political battle between the two main unionist parties. That battle should be kept out of the Council Chamber. I would appeal to both parties to put the interests of the people of Banbridge District first and keep the electioneering for the hustings.”

Incoming chair Junior McCrum said the party would not be dictated to by the UUP.

“It was never agreed by the DUP to have a Sinn Fein vice-chair,” said Mr McCrum. “I am a democrat. If it had worked out that Brendan Curran had been voted as vice-chair I would have had my problems but I would have worked with him. As it happened the UUP proposed Councillor Ingram and that is how it worked out.”

John Hanna, UUP leader on the council, was unavailable for comment at the time of going to print.