12 February 1998 Edition

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Sinn Féin win prompts change in Omagh

By Mick Naughton.

SINN Féin's recent win in the Omagh by-election - which means they are now the largest party on Omagh council - has led to a sudden change in SDLP outlook.

Last Tuesday, 3 February, Sinn Féin councillor Sean Clarke was elected vice-Chair of Omagh District Council with SDLP votes and that of the lone Labour member.

The position, which had lain vacant since the death of Ulster Unionist Desmond Anderson, had been expected to be filled by another UUP councillor given the ten year old pact between the SDLP and UUP to rotate the top posts.

Clarke, nominated by Michael McAnespie and seconded by Patsy McMahon won by 12 votes to 7 against UUP nominee Alan Rainey. Solitary Alliance member, Ann Gormley, voted for the unionist candidate.

After his election Clarke pointed to the powerful message voters had sent in the Mid-Tyrone by-election a fortnight ago.

``I welcome what I hope will become the first step along the road to equal recognition for Sinn Féin on this Council. We wish to also signal that Sinn Fein will not settle for anything less than equality and this will mean a chairmanship of this Council within the next three years.''

Clarke, strongly criticising the previous SDLP/Unionist pact, added, ``I hope that `exclusive' pacts on this Council are things of the past because they have been bad for Omagh and they have caused a lot of resentment among local people. I pledge to give my best to all of the people of the District.''

The SDLP's John McLaughlin said that ``if there is ever to be a coming together, then everyone, including Sinn Féin, must be treated equally.''

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