AP front 1 - 2022

6 June 2002 Edition

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Mayor Maskey

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey was elected Mayor of Belfast on Wednesday evening, 5 June. He won 26 of the 51 votes, succceeding with the backing of SDLP and Alliance members. His victory marks the first time a republican has held a position for many decades jealously denied to any nationalist representative.

Two years ago, Maskey narrowly missed out in what he described as a "sectarian headcount", stymied by the absence of an SDLP councillor due to illness and the last-minute defection to the DUP's Sammy Wilson of Alliance Councillor Danny Dow.

The election of Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey as Lord Mayor of Belfast is a landmark event in the political history of Belfast.

In 1983, Maskey walked into City Hall as the first Sinn Féin councillor to be elected onto Belfast City Council. Since then, Sinn Féin has grown to become the biggest party in Belfast.

Maskey's election as Mayor therefore marks the extent to which Belfast City Council, once the bastion of Unionism, has changed to reflect the growth of nationalism in the city.

In political terms, Maskey's election to become the First Citizen of Belfast is belated recognition of the party's positive role in the life of Belfast over the years, particularly in the peace process.

Maskey's election became possible last weekend when the three members of the Alliance Party declared they would support his candidature. Despite the expected anti-Alliance onslaught from unionists (who tried to exploit the situation in East Belfast by making allegations against republicans) that party stuck to its decision.

Alliance also dismissed speculation that they had done a deal with Sinn Féin over the position of Deputy Mayor, saying that none of their members was running for the post.

In the run up to the election, held on Wednesday 5 June, Maskey asserted that he would "do everything in my power to include all the citizens of this city, to listen to what they are saying and to take my lead from them. Sinn Féin vowed when we first entered City Hall that we would return it to the people."

When Maskey was first elected to City Hall in 1983 he was the sole Sinn Féin representative. His presence was resented by unionist politicians of all parties and they abused and insulted him in an effort to force Sinn Féin out of the council.

However the party's foot was in the door and it is now the largest single party on the Council. Over the years, Sinn Féin has resolutely challenged unionist domination of political life on the council.

Unionist councillors who attempted to exclude Sinn Féin from council committees, as they tried to deny the legitimacy of Sinn Féin's electorate, saw themselves dragged before the courts. Found to be acting illegally and threatened with being surcharged, the unionists were forced to grudgingly accept that they could not run City Hall in the gerrymandered way they were used to as the committees were opened to fair representation.

Maskey, more than anyone else, became a hate figure for unionism in Belfast and in the 20 years since his election he has been targeted by loyalist assassins on numerous occasions.

Maskey was shot and seriously injured, his house was raked with gunfire and bombed on at least two occasions. In the most serious incident, Alan Lundy, a member of the party and a close friend of Maskey's, was shot dead in 1994 as he carried out work on the councillor's home.

That Maskey has continued to work as an active republican in face of the abuse and the attacks is an indication of his commitment and determination. His election as the first Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast therefore is a tribute to the work of the party and a signal that Sinn Féin is growing, moving forward and determined to provide positive leadership for all the people of Belfast.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1