Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Unionists chair 15 out of 26 councils

Unionists have seized a majority of the top positions in local government across Northern Ireland — in a crucial year for the future of councils.

Despite its performance dip in the European elections, the DUP has gained eight of this year’s Lord Mayor, mayor and chair-man posts, more than any other party.

But Ulster Unionists are close behind with seven.

So, between them, the two largest unionist parties hold 15 out of the 26 top positions in the year in which crunch decisions on shrinking to 11 ‘super councils’ are expected to be made.

Sinn Fein in contrast has only five council heads — and the SDLP just three.

Alliance now has two, and the strong tradition of independent councillors in the province has been maintained, with one non-aligned chairman, Patrick McGowan, in Omagh.

The DUP is now ‘top dog’ at the councils in Ards, Ballymoney, Carrick, Castlereagh, Coleraine, Down, Larne and Lisburn.

The party’s determination to cut out double-jobbing meant in Lisburn Edwin Poots relinquished the opportunity to become mayor when he returned for a second stint in Stormont, this time as Environment Minister.

Without the rebranding as Conservatives, Ulster Unionists have become first citizens in Antrim, Ballymena, Banbridge, Craigavon, Dungannon, Fermanagh and Newtownabbey.

Some veteran faces in local |government in Northern Ireland are returning for a second or third time: James Currie (UUP) in Ballymena; Bobby McKee (DUP) in Larne, Bertie Kerr (UUP) in Fermanagh and independent councillor McGowan in Omagh, who has previously served as chairman in 1992-1993 and 1993-1994.

But there are new faces too, including the SDLP’s Thomas O’Hanlon in Armagh who, at 28, is thought to be the youngest mayor in the history of local |government in Northern Ireland.

His party also holds the top posts in Cookstown and Newry and Mourne, while Sinn Fein secured the chairs in Magherafelt, Moyle and Strabane and mayors on Derry City Council and in Limavady.

And apart from the breakthrough of Alliance Party deputy leader Naomi Long in Belfast, her party also holds the Mayorship in North Down with councillor Tony Hill.

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