1 July 2014 Edition
Sinn Féin takes top position on Six-County ‘super councils’
Sinn Féin has overtaken the SDLP in Derry, previously the SDLP’s stronghold
SUCCESSES for Sinn Féin in May’s local government elections in the Six Counties have brought breakthroughs with councillors taking top positions on several authorities.
The 11 new ‘super councils’ created as part of the Review of Public Administration have met for the first time in preparation for when they take over from the existing councils next April.
At those meetings, chairpersons of the new councils were selected. Given Sinn Féin’s strong position with 105 councillors across the North, the party now holds leadership in many of the new structures.
Sinn Féin now holds the top spots on the new councils in Belfast, Derry & Strabane, and Fermanagh & Omagh, joining comrades who have already been elected to positions of leadership in councils in the 26 Counties.
The new bodies will sit alongside the current local authorities as ‘shadow councils’ until next April with council leaders known as ‘Presiding Officers’ until then.
In Belfast City Council, Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey was chosen to lead the new council at a meeting in City Hall. The 30-year-old councillor will head up the new, expanded 60-member council.
From the Markets area of Belfast, Councillor Hargey was first co-opted on to Belfast City Council in 2010 to replace Alex Maskey.
In her first act as Presiding Officer, Councillor Hargey demonstrated her leadership by pledging to represent all the people of the city equally.
She also said the immediate priorities for the new council would be to set a rate and decide on a name for the new authority.
Tyrone’s Maoilssa McHugh was named as Presiding Officer for the Derry & Strabane ‘super council’, reflecting Sinn Féin’s strength as the largest party on the new body.
It is the first time Sinn Féin has overtaken the SDLP in a city that was previously the SDLP’s stronghold.
The Strabane Sinn Féin councillor had previously served as Chair of Strabane District Council and will now lead an area stretching from Castlederg to Culmore.
• History was made in Craigavon when Sinn Féin’s Catherine Seeley was elected Vice-Chair of the council
Speaking in Derry’s Guildhall following his election, the new Presiding Officer said he would work with all parties and Independents to promote the entire north-west region.
He also called for increased co-operation with colleagues from Donegal to help grow the economy on an all-island basis.
One of the main breakthroughs came on the new Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council with Sinn Féin councillors taking a number of key positions.
Darren McNally was chosen as Vice-Chair of the new council, which will replace the Newry & Armagh Council as well as bringing together the existing Banbridge and Craigavon local councils.
History was made in Craigavon when Catherine Seeley was elected as Vice-Chair (or Deputy Mayor) of the council – the first time Sinn Féin has held the position what was once regarded as a unionist bastion.
“I think we have to focus on the positive message that was turned out for the first time for Craigavon Borough Council,” Catherine said.
In Banbridge, Pól Ó Gribín, from the Drumgooland area of south Down, was elected Vice-Chair of the council.
Reflecting on the appointments, Sinn Féin leader on the new ‘super council’, Brendan Curran, said:
“Exclusion and elitism were for long a mainstay of how Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Chairperson positions were allocated in places like Craigavon and elsewhere. The election of Sinn Féin representatives to these positions alongside the DUP, SDLP and UUP is recognition that power-sharing can work in local government.”
In the republican heartland of Mid Ulster, Sinn Féin Councillor Cathal Mallaghan was elected Vice-Chair of Cookstown District Council. The Pomeroy councillor topped the poll in the recent elections.
On the new Fermanagh & Omagh ‘super council’, Sinn Féin took both the top positions, with Erne East Councillor Thomas O’Reilly named as Chair and Enniskillen Councillor Debbie Coyle as Deputy Chair.