23 June 2012     

Is it too much to ask?

By W. Owl

Last week our editorial referred to the conduct of certain councils in relation to the election of mayors and deputy mayors and the exclusion of Sinn Féin members. The CPI’s Betty Sinclair Branch also furnished Unity with their comments on the situation in Craigavon.
     Brian Feeney, writing in the Irish News (13 June), went further into the question, stating that the “annual pantomime shows need for legal constraints.”
     He claimed that it was “another example of unionist triumphalism,” the other being the 12th of July and the three thousand Orange marches that take place. The attitudes on display, he writes, “provide a salutary reminder to anyone who thinks unionism has changed and a useful lesson to the younger generation that unionist Neanderthals still exist, from Castlereagh to Craigavon.”
     In a rather sardonic comment, he did think he may have been “unkind” to Neanderthals, “because recent evidence indicates they co-existed with Homo sapiens for thousands of years, which is more than unionists are prepared to do with nationalists.”
     Having said that, Ballymena has elected its first nationalist mayor from the SDLP, and Ards Borough Council elected its only SDLP councillor to a committee chairmanship for the first time.
     It seems, though, that the councils in Craigavon, Antrim and Newtownabbey have a major problem with any form of power-sharing with Sinn Féin, with Newtownabbey excluding its two Sinn Féin councillors from any position whilst giving a committee chair to the SDLP’s sole representative.
     The real Neanderthals, though, seem to be in Castlereagh, where the Alliance Party were hoping that the council’s longest-serving member, Geraldine Rice, would be elected mayor, especially as they are the second-biggest party, with six seats.
     Hopes were dashed when the DUP, with ten seats, and the UUP, with three seats, united to elect a UUP mayor and a DUP deputy.
     As regards the exclusion of Sinn Féin, Feeney believes that “it would happen west of the Bann too if unionists had the numbers.”
     This obviously remains to be seen, but the attitude of Craigavon DUP councillor Woolsey Smith, who said that his party would not share power with Sinn Féin until they proved they were a “democratic party,” only bolsters Feeney’s argument.
     As his party seems to be quite willing to share power with Sinn Féin at Stormont, with its previous leader, Ian Paisley, happily sitting down with Martin McGuinness as one half of the so-called chuckle brothers and the present leader, Peter Robinson, seemingly having no problems, we might ask where the DUP really stands on power-sharing re the St Andrews Agreement of 2006.
     Feeney points out that one DUP councillor on Craigavon council was one of that party’s dirty dozen who signed a statement in November 2006 rejecting any deal with Sinn Féin. That part of the St Andrews Agreement ends by stating: “All parties to this agreement need to be wholeheartedly and publicly committed, in good faith and in a spirit of genuine partnership.”
     “Of course it was conditional on Sinn Féin supporting the PSNI, which they do, so you might wonder why the leaders of the DUP and UUP don’t step in to tell their councillors, some of whom are also MLAs, to behave themselves in councils,” Feeney asks.
     He then makes the amazing claim that no unionist leader has ever endorsed the concept of power-sharing or partnership in government, but “on the contrary, regularly deplore the idea, constantly referring to a compulsory coalition, which is isn’t—it’s power-sharing.”
     He adds that any talk of a voluntary coalition is just code for unionist majority rule. No wonder then that he can write that none of the councillors involved has ever had their antics repudiated.
     Feeney turns his attention to Peter Robinson, accusing him of hypocrisy when he talks about a “benign apartheid,” a reference I believe to the school segregation here, and advocates a shared future in speeches designed to appeal to moderate unionists, “those who vote Alliance.”
     He believes he should advocate partnership and power-sharing in the North’s administration whilst at the same time “encouraging” the backwoodsmen and women in his own party to acknowledge the existence of equal rights for the nationalist community. In other words, carry out the provisions of St Andrews.
     He finishes by stating that legislation should be brought in to compel councils to operate the d’Hondt voting system.
     The point is that there would be no need if these councils showed some good will as per the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements.
     Is that too much to ask?

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