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BBC NI political correspondent Mark Simpson
"The forum has no power, but it will have a political role to play"
 real 28k

Monday, 9 October, 2000, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Forum meets for first time
Belfast's Waterfront Hall to host first Civic Forum meeting
Belfast's Waterfront Hall hosts first Civic Forum meeting
The 60 members of Northern Ireland's Civic Forum are meeting for the first time.

This is a consultative body, established under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, which is intended to shadow the work of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The forum allows people from outside the party political sphere to influence decisions. Its remit is purely consultative.

The meeting at Belfast's Waterfront Hall is being addressed by the First and Deputy First Ministers, David Trimble and Seamus Mallon.

It comes after the Protestant Orange Order said it was writing to Prime Minister Tony Blair to complain that it is not officially represented on the body.

Failed mediation

Individual Orangemen have seats on the newly-appointed body, however, the Order's Grand Lodge has spoken of its "regret and disappointment" at not having an official representative.

Solicitor Richard Monteith, who is a prominent member of the Lurgan lodge of the Orange Order and who was involved in a failed mediation effort during the Drumcree marching stand-off earlier this year, is among the appointees.

The body is chaired by businessman Chris Gibson who said the members were setting their own agenda.

Speaking on Monday, he said: "The issues are as wide or as various as people would like to place them on the table.

"But certainly I would believe that the programme for government is something that we need to get our minds round and get familiar with.

"It would seem to me that's one of the area's that the assembly would like to discuss with us."

Donncha MacNiallais and Gary McMichael
Forum neighbours: Bogside spokesman Donncha MacNiallais and UDP leader Gary McMichael

Among those with seats on the forum is loyalist politician Gary McMichael.

Mr McMichael heads the Ulster Democratic Party which has links to the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Freedom Fighters.

Both First Minister David Trimble and the Deputy First Minister Seamus Mallon have each made three nominations to the 60-member body.

The first minister's nominees were Mr McMichael, Mr Monteith and Betty McClurg, the chairperson of the Southern Education and Library Board.

Student Sharon Haughey, who welcomed US President Bill Clinton during his visit to Armagh two years ago, was among Mr Mallon's nominees.

The SDLP deputy leader's nominees also included Brian O'Reilly, regional president of the charity the Society of St Vincent de Paul and Hugh Frazer, director of the Combat Poverty Agency.

Other nominations to the body included the spokesman for the nationalist Bogside Residents' Association, Donncha MacNiallais.

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