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BBC NI's Julian O'Neill reports
Unionists of all shades united to see off the Sinn Fein challenge
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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 06:59 GMT 07:59 UK
'Hypocrisy' claims over DUP mayor

Sammy Wilson(left) receives the chain of office from Bob Stoker
A row has erupted after two pro-agreement Ulster Unionists helped elect a lord mayor for Belfast who is against the Good Friday Agreement.

The Democratic Unionist Party's Sammy Wilson was elected as first citizen of the city for the second time on Thursday night.

He narrowly defeated Sinn Fein's Alex Maskey by 26 votes to 24 at the council's annual meeting.

It came about when unionists united to keep out the republican candidate.

Sinn Fein had hoped to secure the mayoralty for the first time but Mr Maskey has repeatedly been defeated in his attempts.

Alex Maskey: Narrowly defeated for mayoral role

He has accused Ulster Unionist executive ministers Sir Reg Empey and Michael McGimpsey of hypocrisy.

Mr Maskey said it was "an irony" that the ministers had come from the power-sharing executive's meeting - which is boycotted by the DUP because of the presence of Sinn Fein - and then voted for a member of the DUP.

However, Mr McGimpsey has denied the accusation.

"We had disagreements with the DUP over the agreement and we made those disagreements voluble. We made those disagreements quite clear.

"But in local government, in the City Hall, this is a different situation and, as I said, we had an arrangement."

Former lord mayor, Alliance councillor David Alderdice accused Ulster Unionists of "barefaced hypocrisy".

But Ulster Unionist Fred Cobain denied the claim and said a rotation deal had been agreed after the last election.

Mr McGimpsey said that after the next election, another four year deal could also be arranged.

Michael McGimpsey
Michael McGimpsey: Denies accusation

Sinn Fein has been the largest party in the council chamber for the past two years, with 13 councillors and many felt it was time to rotate the top council posts.

But the resignation of Alliance Party councillor Danny Dow dented the party's hopes for the top post, after Alliance members said they would support Sinn Fein.

Following his election, the new lord mayor - who previously served in 1986 - said nationalists had less to fear from him, than unionists had from ongoing terrorist activity.

Mr Wilson said: "I will seek to represent the people of this city as a whole while holding on to my firm unionist principles," he said.

On Thursday night, defeated candidate Alex Maskey said the result had been "a bad vote for unionism".

But he said he was confident that Sinn Fein would take the position eventually, adding that it would be "good for Belfast".

Proportional basis

Catherine Molloy, the leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party on the council, said she was "very disappointed" by the outcome of the election.

She said the council should consider deciding the top positions on a proportional basis.

Her party colleague councillor Alasdair McDonnell who was deputy Lord Mayor in 1995, said there was still a great deal of confrontation.

Meanwhile, Frank McCoubrey of the Ulster Democratic Party was elected to the position of deputy mayor.

His predecessor Sinn Fein's Marie Moore said her term in office had changed some unionist attitudes.

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See also:

01 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
Battle on for top council post
12 May 00 | Northern Ireland
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02 Jun 99 | UK Politics
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01 Jun 00 | Northern Ireland
DUP win mayoral battle
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