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Tuesday, June 1, 1999 Published at 20:26 GMT 21:26 UK

UK Politics

Rival NI parties to share top jobs

Belfast: Changing times at the City Hall

Political history has been made in Belfast with an Ulster Unionist and a Sinn Fein councillor elected to the city council's two top jobs.

The Search for Peace
Belfast's 51 city councillors met on Tuesday evening to elect the lord mayor and his deputy.

The move comes despite current difficulties in the peace process in which Sinn Fein and the UUP find themselves unable to reach an agreement on decommissioning terrorist arms.

'Building bridges'

An understanding between the pro Good Friday Agreement parties elected UUP Councillor Bob Stoker as the city's lord mayor, with Marie Moore of Sinn Fein picking up the deputy position.

Councillor Moore said she was unconcerned by the controversy surrounding her election and pledged to work for all communities in the city.

She said: "I hope to represent all of the people.

"I hope to make links and to build bridges with all the community regardless of their religious or political beliefs."

The new deputy mayor added that she understood there were various engagements which unionists would not want her to attend and she would respect their feelings.

Landing the number two role on Belfast City Council is one of the most significant posts held by Sinn Fein since the party first sought election to the city council.

First female deputy mayor

The local election in 1997 saw republicans filling 13 seats and becoming the joint largest party alongside the UUP.

The combined vote of Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance gives non unionists a majority, 26 to 25, for the first time.

This paved the way for an electoral pact which led to the election of Belfast's first Nationalist Lord Mayor, Alban McGuinness.

He was succeeded by the current Lord Mayor David Alderdice, the brother of the former Alliance Party leader and current presiding officer of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Lord Alderdice.

Councillor Moore won a 26 to 25 vote against a Democratic Unionist Party nominee. Mr Stoker voted against having her as his deputy.

She is also the city's first female deputy mayor.

Normal practice in Belfast is that whichever party is given the deputy Lord Mayor's post one year gets the top post the year after

Next year, it seems likely that Alex Maskey, the first Sinn Fein member to be elected to Belfast City Council after the party dropped its policy of abstention in 1981, could be elected as the city's lord mayor.

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