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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 12:35 GMT 13:35 UK
Battle on for top council post
Belfast City Hall
The contest for Belfast's mayoralty is delicately poised
Sinn Fein is hoping to take the top post on Belfast City Council for the first time ever.

The election for the position of lord mayor is taking place at the City Hall on Thursday night and is likely to prompt a heated debate.

Republicans have been boosted by the support of the cross-community Alliance Party in their bid for the post of first citizen.

However, unionists intend putting forward their own candidate.

The Democratic Unionist Party's Sammy Wilson, who previously served as lord mayor 14 years ago, was nominated following a meeting of DUP councillors on Wednesday night.

He said it would be an "absolute scandal" that a party who had been "associated" for the last 30 years with those who bombed and terrorised the people of Belfast, should start this millennium as the leaders of the city.

"People will vote for those parties with whom they feel closest to and feel best represent the people in the city, " he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Wilson's DUP council colleague, Eric Smyth, said he was leaving the party after failing to win the nomination for the mayoral post.

"I'm very angry and very hurt because I have served this party for a long time," he said.

Some 51 councillors are expected to be involved in Thursday night's election, in a council which has been a bitter political battleground in the past.



Alex Maskey: Could be Belfast's first republican mayor

Sinn Fein has been the largest party in the council chamber for the past two years and councillor Alex Maskey is hoping for the top job.

Mr Maskey said the election of a Sinn Fein mayor would be a recognition of the party's growing representation in the city council.

"I think it would be an important step forward for the city of Belfast, the first time we would have achieved inclusion at civic leadership level," he said.

Leader of the Alliance Party on the council, Mervyn Jones, said the party believed Sinn Fein were "genuine in their desire to go down the road of democratic politics".

He said their numbers meant they "deserved a share of the top posts".

Former lord mayor of the city, Alban Maginness of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, said the unionist position was inconsistent.

"They are prepared to accept the benefits of power-sharing or partnership, but they are not prepared to concede those benefits or those advantages to Sinn Fein or indeed at times to the SDLP.

"They are also inconsistent in so far as the election of Hugh Smith some years ago, was at a time when he member of the PUP and it was clearly connected to the UVF."

He said Sinn Fein had played an active role in the council committees and he believed the position of lord mayor should be determined on a rotational basis.

However, Mr Smith said his own experience was "vastly different" from that of Sinn Fein.

"I had 20 years of experience in City Hall and certainly had served my apprenticeship before I became lord mayor," he said.

However, the resignation of an Alliance councillor may have dealt a blow to the hopes of Mr Maskey becoming the city's first republican mayor.

Councillor Danny Dow has now decided to support a unionist candidate.

It means that the combined vote of Sinn Fein, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Alliance Party is one short of the overall majority needed.



They are prepared to accept the benefits of power-sharing or partnership, but they are not prepared to concede those benefits or those advantages to Sinn Fein or indeed at times to the SDLP

Alban Maginness
Mr Dow, who was elected in the mainly unionist Victoria ward in east Belfast, said last week he had decided "there would be no Sinn Fein lord mayor".

Speculation that Ulster Unionist councillors would stay away from the meeting to allow Mr Maskey to be elected has been dismissed by the current incumbent, Bob Stoker.

In the event of a tie, Mr Stoker has said he will use his casting vote to elect the unionist candidate.

The outgoing deputy mayor is a Sinn Fein member, Councillor Marie Moore.

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02 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Rival NI parties to share top jobs
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