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1 July 1999 Edition

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Lisburn nationalists excluded

by Laura Friel

``Discriminatory, undemocratic and unjust,'' is how Sinn Féin Councillor Paul Butler describes unionist control of Lisburn Borough Council. Unionist domination and nationalist marginalisation characterise party representation on council committees and outside bodies, says Paul.

Sinn Féin is the second largest party in Lisburn Borough Council and yet the party is systematically under-represented in the allocation of posts within the council. And it doesn't stop there. Nationalist representation as a whole is marginalised, effectively disenfranchising the entire nationalist electorate of Lisburn.

Lisburn Borough Council is one of the most notoriously sectarian councils in the North. In the past, the council has successfully campaigned to restrict the number of houses built in the nationalist Poleglass estate, a blatant attempt to curtail the growing nationalist electorate within their remit.

The council has also been guilty of systematic discrimination in the allocation of funding to both Twinbrook and Poleglass, two large nationalist estates which fall within the boundaries of the Lisburn district.

The largest party in Lisburn is the Ulster Unionist Party, which commands 13 seats out of 30. Sinn Féin, the next largest group, has four seats. The Alliance Party has three seats, with the SDLP, DUP and UDP returning two seats each. There are also four independent councillors, of which one is nationalist and the other three unionist.

There are ten standing committees on Lisburn council. Out of the ten chairpersonships, the Ulster Unionists control six, the other four are allocated singly to Alliance, DUP, an independent unionist and the mayor. One chairpersonship is allocated to the mayor by virtue of his office. Only on the rare occasion, for example when there is a nationalist mayor, has any nationalist been allotted a position as chair of a committee.

Positions of vice-chair follow a similar pattern. Currently, the UUP controls all vice chairs within Lisburn Borough Council. Sinn Féin is totally excluded from both chair and vice-chair posts. Party representation on outside bodies such as the Dunmurray District Partnership is not much better.

The combined unionist representation to outside bodies is 87.7%, with nationalist representation at a mere 11.8% - half the amount which would be awarded to nationalist representatives if a system of proportionality was introduced into the council.

``Belfast City Council have of their own volition, chosen to adopt a proportionality system for their council,'' says Paul Butler. ``Only the adoption of a similar system will address the democratic deficit that exists in Lisburn Council.''

Furthermore, says Paul, the actions of Lisburn Council stand in sharp contrast to section 6 of the Good Friday Agreement with regards to rights, safeguards and equality of opportunity. ``Enshrined in the Agreement is the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations, `` says Paul, ``yet unionist domination within Lisburn Borough Council excludes a substantial minority of the population from the democratic process.''
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