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7 January 1999 Edition

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City Council victory for Sinn Fein

Genuine equality may at last be forced onto the Unionist bastion of Belfast City Council. On Monday night a Sinn Fein motion on the principle of proportionality, rejected by the Policy and Resources Committee before Christmas, was passed 23-21 before the full council.

In essence the motion paves the way for the introduction of a system whereby the chairs, vice-chairs of committees and sub-committees, and the nomination of councillors to outside bodies will be based on party strength within the council.

To date Sinn Fein, with the biggest electoral mandate in Belfast, and jointly with the Ulster Unionist Party the largest party in City Hall, have been denied senior posts. These have been divided up unequally in backroom cross-party deals to the exclusion of Sinn Fein.

That the UUP should declare its support for proportionality, such as the d'Hondt system used in the new Assembly, but declare opposition to the motion solely because it gives the Sinn Fein electorate more direct access to power looks dishonest when set against some of the council appointments it has supported. The UUP supported the UDP councillor Frank McCoubrey's election as a vice-chairman of the client services committee and the PUP's Hugh Smyth's chairmanship.

Sinn Fein councillor Sean McKnight said, ``now the Unionists on Belfast Council will have absolutely no choice but to deal with the issue of excluding Sinn Fein from senior posts. Once it becomes policy they will have to accept it and Sinn Fein will get a proportional share of power.''

McKight added, ``while the whole world is moving forward outside of City Hall unionists seem determined to remain stuck in the quagmire of exclusion.''
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