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EDITIONS
Friday, 31 May, 2002, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Alliance backs Sinn Fein lord mayor
Republicans have never held the Lord Mayor's post at Belfast City Hall
Republicans have never held the lord mayor's post
The Alliance Party has said it will support a Sinn Fein lord mayor for Belfast.

Alliance has only three councillors in Belfast, but they hold the balance of power between nationalists and unionists at City Hall.

At a news conference on Friday, the party said it believed it was the right decision to make.

The leader of the Alliance grouping on the council, David Alderdice, said it was a "difficult and soul-searching decision".

I believe that by doing this we will be consolidating peace by wedding Sinn Fein even closer to the democratic process

David Alderdice
Alliance Party

"There was a thorough consultation process over weeks and months," he said.

"Last year, Alliance did not back Sinn Fein. There were a number of reasons for this.

"Primarily, we felt Sinn Fein had singularly failed to meet its main obligation under the Good Friday Agreement - it had failed to convince the IRA to begin the process of putting weapons beyond use."

Since then there had been two acts of decommissioning which had aided the peace process, he said.

But he said it was time to disband the IRA.

'Decommission its weapons'

"We have decided to back Sinn Fein for the second time. I believe that by doing this we will be consolidating peace by wedding Sinn Fein even closer to the democratic process.

"Once again Alliance is taking a risk for peace. We are doing what we believe is the right thing to do."


I will certainly do my level best to represent all of the citizens of Belfast

Alex Maskey
Sinn Fein

He said the party was "acting for the greater good" and expected unionist criticism of its decision.

Alex Maskey, the Sinn Fein candidate, had said he hoped to become the first republican lord mayor of the city.

Reacting to the Alliance decision, Mr Maskey said: "I will seek the support of other parties to ensure that Sinn Fein has the right to have a mayor of Belfast, and more importantly that the democratic principle of recognising that every single voter is respected in their entirety and I look forward to that occasion.

"I will certainly do my level best to represent all of the citizens of Belfast and I intend to have a style of office which will be more than a 'year-long photo opportunity incumbent mayor'."

Asked how he would deal with Remembrance Sunday, the Sinn Fein assembly member said: "I will seek to engage with all of those sectors, including those who would be involved in the Cenotaph arrangements and other events like that in Belfast."

Top council post

Last year, Alliance refused to back the councillor, saying they remained concerned about the IRA's failure to decommission its weapons.

Since then, there have been two acts of IRA decommissioning and Sinn Fein hopes the nationalist SDLP will back Mr Maskey along with Alliance.

The Alliance Party consulted on the issue, but said the final decision had rested with its three Belfast councillors.

However, it is understood some in the Alliance Party were deeply opposed to backing Sinn Fein for the top council post.

Some members have ongoing concerns about allegations of IRA involvement in weapons training for left wing guerillas in Colombia.

Mr Alderdice said the party had discussed decommissioning, Colombia and policing and had reached a "unanimous decision".

Alex Maskey: Sinn Fein councillor
Alex Maskey: Seeking to become Belfast's first republican mayor

However, a former Democratic Unionist Party lord mayor said Alliance would be "punished by voters" in future elections if a Sinn Fein mayor was elected.

Nigel Dodds, the MP for North Belfast, said: "Despite its protestations, Alliance has clearly turned a blind eye to IRA involvement in Colombia, the compiling of a hit list of mainland British politicians, the Castlereagh police station break-in, murders and recent violence on the streets of this city.

"I have no doubt that the consequence of this disgraceful and despicable decision is that Alliance will incur the wrath of voters at the ballot box."

Belfast City Council will meet to vote on the lord mayorship next week.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC NI's Mark Devenport:
"Not a great deal of surprise although this was a difficult decision for Alliance"
David Alderdice of the Alliance Party
"We take our responsibilities on this matter very seriously"
Alex Maskey of Sinn Fein
"I hope the Alliance Party recognise the vote we have in Belfast"
See also:

25 Jun 01 | N Ireland
13 Jun 01 | Northern Ireland
05 Sep 00 | N Ireland
01 Jun 00 | N Ireland
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