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Catholics shut out at Lisburn Council

The Ulster Unionist Party's increasing abandonment of the Good Friday
Agreement and its power sharing commitment is filtering down to local
government level, with unionist dominated Lisburn Borough Council
reverting to its old anti-Catholic agenda of sectarian exclusion.

Ulster Unionist Party councillors of Lisburn voted to have 'no Catholic
about the place' by excluding all nationalist and Alliance Party
members from council positions within the city at last week's AGM. The
UUP connived with the ultra-hardliners of the DUP to ensure that
unionists secured all positions.

In doing so, the UUP abandoned established local protocol and ignored
their commitment to creating Lisburn as 'a city for all', a slogan that
had figured large in the borough's successful campaign to gain city
status a year ago. The UUP's actions "have set the council back years",
said Sinn Fein Councillor Michael Ferguson.

Most notable among the many nationalist and Catholic councillors to
suffer at the hands of the UUP and DUP pack was Sinn Fein's Michael
Ferguson, who, as standing vice chair of environmental services, was
poised to take the chair this year.

Sinn Fein's Paul Butler, whose length of service should have entitled
him to a vice chair position, fell foul of UUP exclusion. Trevor Lunn
of the Alliance Party, standing vice chair of corporate services, was
also denied the position of chair.

On the other hand, with the help of the UUP, Cecil Calvert of the DUP,
notorious for his anti-Catholic sentiments, secured the position of
deputy mayor, with Billy Bell of the UUP taking the position of Lisburn
mayor. Cecil Calvert is a member of Stoneyford Orange Lodge, where a
loyalist death list detailing the personal details of nationalists,
including members of Lisburn Council, was discovered.

While a few individual members of the UUP privately expressed personal
regret to their nationalist colleagues, none felt able to resist what
they described as a party "three line whip". But leader of the UUP
council group Ivan Davis, a close associate of David Trimble's, who
held the party whip within the Assembly, has disclaimed responsibility.

During a radio interview, Davis admitted that Catholics had been
excluded from all council positions within the borough but claimed it
was a 'group' decision. Challenged by Sinn Fein's Michael Ferguson,
Davis rejected that his party's actions had been sectarian. "I grew up
with Catholics," Davis told a stunned radio audience.

"The fact that the schism currently threatening to tear the UUP and
David Trimble's leadership apart is being played out along sectarian
lines will come as little surprise to northern nationalists," said

"David Trimble initially secured his leadership position within the UUP
by supporting the Orange Order's Drumcree violent siege against the
nationalist residents of Garvaghy Road," said Ferguson, "Jeffrey
Donaldson has built his power base within the UUP by rejecting the
power sharing arrangements of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Now, each faction within the UUP is attempting to become more hardline
than the hardliners. The crisis is within unionism but nationalists are
paying the price," said Ferguson.

But the Lisburn councillor is also critical of the nationalisr SDLP. An
attempt to introduce the d'Hondt system into local government practices
in Lisburn Borough Council by Sinn Fein last year was scuppered by the

"The local SDLP preferred their 'gentlemen's agreement' with the UUP,"
said Ferguson. "In past years, with the connivance of the UUP, the SDLP
was able to secure more positions than Sinn Fein, despite their weaker
electoral base. The nod and wink system suited the SDLP at the time."

The SDLP sought and tolerated discrepancies that allowed Alliance
member Betty Campbell, in her second term of office, to secure the
position of deputy mayor, despite the fact that Sinn Fein had three
times as many votes as the Alliance Party. Peter O'Hagan of the SDLP
became the mayor despite Sinn Fein having twice as many votes as the

"The d'Hondt system would have ensured a more equable distribution of
power within local government in Lisburn," said Ferguson," and it is a
system which already operates within the Assembly and also within many
councils, including Belfast.

"It would have decreased political acrimony and ensured electoral
equity within the borough. It also would have prevented unionists
playing the sectarian card whenever they feel under pressure."

Sinn Fein is currently seeking legal advice and exploring the
possibility of challenging, through the Equality Commission, the
unionist monopoly of power within the Lisburn borough.

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