22 January 1998 Edition
Unionist democracy exposed as a sham
Below, Sinn Féin's Belfast City Councillors outline the undemocratic nature of the Unionist parties in Belfast City Hall. At a time when Unionists are pushing for an internal settlement, the Sinn Féin report shows that little has changed in the Orange State.
A pact between Alliance and the other unionist parties, has resulted in the systematic exclusion of Sinn Fein from all chairs and vice-chairs on Belfast City Council Committees and outside authorities.
The figures show:
The domination of posts by unionists and the marginalisation of nationalists.
The complete exclusion of Sinn Féin on Council Committees and outside authorities.
The overall domination of the Ulster Unionist party.
The over-representation of Alliance.
Sinn Féin, the largest political party on the Council with 27.6% of the vote, is excluded from chairs or vice-chairs. The Ulster Unionist Party received 20.1% of the vote in the election. It holds 25.49% of the seats - the same amount as Sinn Féin - but 43.75% of the chairs and 37.5% of the vice chairs.
Alliance, with 9% of the vote, holds 25% of all Council chairs and 19% of all vice-chairs on Council committees.
93% of all chairs and 87% of all vice-chairs are occupied by the unionist parties. The nationalist parties have 43% of the vote and 40% of the Council seats, yet they have only 6% of the chairs and 12.5% of the vice-chairs. All chairs and vice-chairs held by nationalists are occupied by the SDLP.
Party representation on outside authorities follows a similar pattern.
It is only on the newly created partnership boards that party representation actually comes close to their electoral performance. This proves that only a system of proportionality, as practiced in the nomination for the partnership boards, is able to redress these injustices in the democratic process and will lead to equal representation and participation.
The distribution of chairs, vice-chairs and membership on outside aumorities, if left to the goodwill of the unionist parties, leads to the marginalisation of the nationalist parties and the complete exclusion of Sinn Féin. This unequal representation is discriminatory, undemocratic and unjust. lt disenfranchises the nationalist electorate. An equal representation of all parties involved in the democratic process can only emerge in the form of a guaranteed system of proportionality.
The democratic question will be one of the key issues towards the solution of the present conflict. Consequently, we should take a close look at how this democratic commitment is practised by the unionist parties at a Belfast local government level. The pact between Alliance, the UUP, DUP and the other smaller unionist parties to exclude Sinn Féin from chairs and vice-chairs on Belfast City Council and the outside authorities must be set in the context of the long history of discrimination practised by unionists against the nationalist population.
This violates two fundamental principles of democracy: Equal representation and participation. The two largest parties on Belfast City Council, Sinn Féin and the Ulster Unionist Party, hold the same number of seats. However, whereas Sinn Féin holds no chairs at all, the UUP holds more than 40% of all chairs. All unionist parties together - the UUP, DUP, Alliance and the smaller unionist parties - hold 94% of all chairs. The nationalist parties - Sinn Fein and the SDLP - hold 6% of chairs. This distribution of posts is but one example of a gross misrepresentation of the nationalist parties in general and Sinn Féin in particular.
Looking at individual parties, three observations are particularly interesting:
The complete exclusion of Sinn Fein.
The number of Alliance chairs is more than 100% higher than the seats they hold on the Council.
The UUP holds a quarter of Council seats but nearly 50% of the chairs.
87.5% of all vice-chairs are held by the unionist parties; 12.5% are held by the SDLP. While Sinn Féin is completely excluded, all major unionist parties - the UUP, DUP and Alliance - are overrepresented.
After the last local government election in May 1997 the following parties were elected to Belfast City Council:
Table 1: Seats on City Council
% Vote Seats (total: 51) % Seats
Sinn Fein 27.6 13 25.49
UUP 20.1 13 25.49
SDLP 15.6 7 13.72
DUP 12.1 7 13.72
Alliance 9.2 6 11.76
PUP 9 2 3 5.88
UDP 2.4 1 1.96
Indep. Unionist 0.9 1 1.96
Women's Coal. 1.0 - -
WP 1.0 - -
GP 0.5 - -
Con. 0.3 - -
NL 0.1 - -
Labour 0.0 - -
The Committtes in Belfast City Council
Belfast City Council has 16 committees: 6 Principal Committees and Sub Committees.
The party composition of chairpersons of Belfast City Council Committtees is the following:
Indep. Unionist: 1
A comparison of the percentages of council seats with the percentages of chairs allocated to the parties on Council Committees produces the following pattern:
Table 2: Chairs on Council Committees
Seats on Council in % Chairpersonships in %
Sinn Fein 25.49 -
UUP 25.49 43.75
SDLP 13.72 6.25
DUP 13.72 12.5
Alliance 11.76 25
PUP 5.88 6.25
UDP 1.96 -
Inden. Unionist 1.96 6.25
Vice-chairs on Belfast City Council
Looking at the distribution of vice-chairs on City Council Committees we find a similar pattern as outlined above The party composition of vice-chairs is the following:
A comparison of the percentages of council seats with the percentages of vice chairpersonships allocated to the parties on Council Committees produces the following pattern:
Table 3: Vice-Chairpersonships on City Council Committees
Seats on Coucil in % Vice-chairs in %
Sinn Fein 25.49 -
UUP 25.49 37.5
SDLP 13 .72 12.5
DUP 13.72 25
Alliance 11 .76 18.75
PUP 5.88 6.25
UDP 1.96 -
Inden. Unionist 1.96 -
The Pact between Alliance and the other Unionist Parties
Recently the media reported on a pact between Alliance, the UUP, DUP and the other unionist parties to distribute chairs and vice-chairs on Council Committees among themselves and exclude Sinn Féin.
If we compare the agreements of the pact alongside the actual distribution of chairs/vice chairs, we can conclude the following:
In 12 out of 16 arrangements the distribution of chairs and vice-chairs coincides with the agreement as outlined in the pact.
In three cases, the SDLP did not participate in the deal. Therefore, Alliance gained one additional chair (Pers.Sub) and one additional vice-chair (Contract). One chair went to an independent unionist (H+E).
ln one case we find a modified deal between the UUP and the DUP (Tourism).
Table 4: Alliance/Unionist Pact and Reality
Committee Chair Vice-chair Chair Vice-chair
P+R Alliance UUP Alliance UUP
Client UUP Alliance UUP Alliance
Contract UUP SDLP UUP Alliance
Develop. DUP UUP DUP UUP
H+E SDLP UUP Ind. Union UUP
Planning PUP DUP PUP DUP
Housing Alliance PUP Alliance PUP
Fin+Admin UUP Alliance UUP Alliance
Pers.Sub SDLP DUP Alliance DUP
Pol.Perf. UUP DUP UUP DUP
Arts Alliance UUP Alliance UUP
Ec.Devel. UUP SDLP UUP SDLP
Tourism DUP UUP UUP DUP
Parks DUP UUP DUP UUP
Com+Leis. UUP SDLP UUP SDLP
Waterfront SDLP UUP SDLP UUP
The chairs and vice-chairs on Belfast City Council Committees are dominated by unionists. 93% of all chairs and 87% of all vice-chairs are occupied by the unionist parties. The nationalists are marginalised. Although they hold nearly 40% of the Council seats, they have only 6% of the chairs and 12.5% of the vice-chairs. Sinn Fein is completely excluded from chairs and vice-chairs. The Ulster Unionist Party, while holding the same amount of seats as Sinn Féin, dominates on the Committees. The exclusion of Sinn Féin contrasts with the over-representation of Alliance: While Alliance holds only 11% of the Council seats they hold a quarter of all chairs and 19% of all vice-chairs on the Committees.
Party Representation on Outside Authorities and Partnership Boards
The marginalisation of the nationalist representatives is also prevalent on outside authorities. Out of a total of 34 outside authorities, nationalists are represented on 6. Belfast City Council nominates 76 members to outside authorities. Sinn Fein is represented on 2 outside authorities. 86.46% of all members on outside authorities are unionist, 13.5 are nationalist. To take two examples: On the important Belfast Education and Library Board 2 out of 14 Council members are nationalist (i.e. SDLP). The Eastern Health & Social Services Council has 6 Council members, only one of them is nationalist (SDLP).
Table 5: Party Representation on Outside Authorities (OA)
Councillors on OA in % Seats on
Sinn Fein 3 4.05 25.49
UUP 34 45.94 25.49
SDLP 7 45 13.72
DUP 14 18.91 13.72
Alliance 13 17.56 11.76
PUP 2 2.7 5.88
UDP - - 1.96
Ind Unionist 1 1.35 1.96
The nomination to the recently formed partnership boards is based on the principle of proportionality. Therefore, nationalist representation improves. Although Sinn Féin is slightly under-represented, the two nationalist parties are fairly evenly represented, especially when compared with the council comminees and outside authorities.
Table 6: Party Representation on Partnership Boards
Seats on Boards
(total:55) Seats on City Council
Sinn Fein 12.5 (22.72%) 25.49
UUP 14.5 (26.36%) 25.49
SDLP 9 (16.36%) 13.72
DUP 6 (10.9%) 13.72
Alliance 5 (9.09%) 11.76
PUP 5.5 (10%) 5.88
UDP 2 (3.63%) 1.96
Indep. Unionist 0.5 (0.9%) 1.96
Party representation on Belfast City Council Committees and outside authorities is characterised by unionist domination and nationalist marginalisation in general and by the dominance of the Ulster Unionist Party, the over-representation of Alliance and the exclusion of Sinn Féin in particular. A comparison between party representation on the Council Committees and on the outside authorities on the one hand and on partnership boards on the other hand seems to imply that only some form of structural change is able to redress these injustices in the democratic process. The representation of parties on the partnership boards is closest to their electoral performance.
The distribution of chairs, vice-chairs and membership on outside authorities, if left to the parties alone, leads to the marginalisation of the nationalist parties and the complete exclusion of Sinn Féin. This unequal representation is discriminatory, unjust and disenfranchises the nationalist electorate. An equal representation of all parties involved in the democratic process can only emerge in the form of a guaranteed system of proportionality.