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4 March 1999 Edition

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Belfast City Council votes through new power-sharing scheme

by Dan O'Neill

The days of unionist domination on the Belfast City Council may at last be numbered after the council on Monday voted through an historic scheme for sharing power in line with party strength.

Introduced against a background of unionist opposition, the new system will see an increase in the nationalist and in particular the Sinn Fein share of the Chairpersonships of council committees.

To date Sinn Fein, with the biggest electoral mandate in Belfast, and jointly with the UUP, 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.

This historic vote, which had the support of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party, now means that a total of 36 chairpersonships and vice chairpersonships are to be split into two pools with the posts rotating so no-one party can hold the same post for more than one year.

Sinn Fein councillor on Belfast City Council, Alex Maskey said, the aim of introducing the new system was to ensure ``fairness''. Referring to unionist opposition to the principle of proportionality he said that Sinn Fein would accept chairpersonships under the new system adding that they will be taking their ministerial positions in the assembly in the same way.
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