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21 September 2006 Edition

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The Mitchel McLaughlin Column

Power sharing must be requirement in new councils legislation

Experience is a good teacher. If we have learned anything over the course of recent attempts to restore the political institutions of the Good Friday Agreement, it is that the DUP do not voluntarily participate in power sharing. Not only will they refuse to move forward on the basis of inclusivity but, if permitted, would reinstate the old unionist hegemony of the pre-1970s. Many unionists, it would appear, voted for this regressive and failed politics when they voted for the DUP. Paisley may be old, some might even think he is beautiful, but he cannot hold back or indeed turn back the tide of history.

It is important that the legislation governing the administration of the new councils contains a requirement for senior positions to be allocated on the basis of legally enforceable power sharing so that no party can discriminate against any section of the electorate. It has been clearly demonstrated that some unionists, particularly in the DUP, do not respect the right of republicans and nationalists to participate as equals in the functions of government.

There is still a mindset within sections of political unionism that the votes of republicans or nationalists are not of equal value to those of unionists. The DUP's particular version of politics, alone or with the connivance of Alliance and UUP, cannot be allowed to disenfranchise the republican/nationalist electorate. The situation in councils such as Castlereagh, Lisburn and Ballymena is intolerable and must be confronted.

When the DUP argue for civil rights for Protestants in Derry, for example, their case takes no account of their own sectarian track record in other local councils. In Castlereagh, Lisburn and Ballymena, republicans and nationalists are routinely excluded from senior positions. Contrast this with Derry City Council, where the combined strength of unionist councillors is less than 25% and Gregory Campbell continually argues for rotation of the Mayoralty between nationalists/republicans and unionists on a 50/50 basis. Despite an extremely fair and generous system of power sharing across all positions of civic leadership in the Council, the DUP continually accuses the SDLP and Sinn Féin majority of alienating the unionist minority by not providing for two unionist Mayors and two nationalist Mayors in each four year term.

The DUP do not seem to see the irony in their unsustainable claim of discrimination in Derry City Council. They conveniently forget that political unionism alienated the nationalist majority in Derry for 70 years and that their party continues to blatantly provoke and antagonise the majority of nationalists.

If the DUP wish nationalists to take seriously their claim to be democrats then they need to respect the mandate which that electorate has given to others.

Incorporating power sharing on the basis of proportionality into the new RPA legislation would ensure equality of mandates in the newly empowered and enlarged councils

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