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One in seven councillors unelected: revelation described as complete abuse of democratic system

By Adrian Rutherford

One in seven of Northern Ireland's councillors are unelected – with 80 of our local government representatives co-opted by their parties.

At one authority, Newry and Mourne District Council, a third of current members was selected by their parties rather than the public.

Recent months have seen a sudden rise in co-options, with over 50 cases since September.

The practice has been branded "a complete abuse" of the democratic process and similar to the operations of the Politburo in Soviet Russia.

The Belfast Telegraph has analysed every case of a councillor being replaced since the last local government elections in May 2011.

In that time, 80 of the 582 councillors have been co-opted – around one in seven.

Of these, 54 have been co-opted since last September.

In most cases the councillors were also MLAs and resigned as part of moves to end double-jobbing. Several others were co-opted to replace deceased members.

In another case Ballymena councillor David Tweed was jailed for child abuse, leaving his seat vacant.

Austen Lennon sits as an independent on North Down Borough Council, where a fifth of members has been co-opted.

He said the policy was bad for democracy.

"This could only happen in Northern Ireland – it is a complete abuse of the system," he said.

"People should have the right to chose who they want to vote for, but this is being denied to them in a huge way.

"These are moves which the Politburo would have made in Russia – it is completely devoid of democracy.

"In many cases we don't know who these people are, what they stand for, what their history is. They are merely mouthpieces for the parties who put them there."

The DUP accounted for 26 co-options while Sinn Fein accounted for another 17. The SDLP had eight co-options, Alliance had two while the Ulster Unionists had one.

The issue of co-option has come to the fore after it emerged that six prominent Sinn Fein members of Newry and Mourne council had been replaced.

In total, eight of the council's 25 members – one in three – have been co-opted.

Davy Hyland  a former Sinn Fein councillor who now sits on Newry and Mourne as an independent, branded it a clever manipulation of the system.

However, Conor Murphy, the Sinn Fein MP for Newry and Armagh, said the six who were replaced indicated they would not be part of the new super-councils, due to come into place next year.

He said the co-options were a way of managing the change.

"There was an opportunity to bring in new people as part of the transition," he told the BBC.

"These people will essentially be half of the team.

"We are retaining a number of very experienced councillors, and these people will be part of the team that manages the transition from the old council arrangements to the new."

A number of the 26 DUP co-options saw councillors replaced by a relative.

Jonathan Craig and Trevor Clarke were replaced by their wives while another three – Paul Girvan, Stephen Moutray and Gordon Dunne – were replaced by a son.

North Down DUP MLA Peter Weir said all the appointments had been the result of a competitive process, with just a small number passing between family members.

"We have had an open process and in a lot of these cases there has been strong competition.

"We picked the best people," he said.

Co-opted councillors and those who they replaced

ANTRIM: Grainne Teggart replaced by Kieran Patrick McMullan; Bobby Loughran replaced by Bernard Gerard Duffin; Trevor Clarke replaced by Linda Diane Clarke; Pam Cameron replaced by John Smyth

ARDS: Kieran McCarthy replaced by Kellie Mary Armstrong

ARMAGH: Noel Sheridan replaced by Seaneen Anne White; William Irwin replaced by William John Lavelle McIlwrath; John Campbell replaced by Eamon Thomas McNeill

BALLYMENA: David Tweed replaced by Timothy James Gaston; Paul Frew replaced by William McCaughey

BALLYMONEY: Iain McAfee replaced by Roma Shane O'Dell McAfee and Mervyn Storey replaced by Robert Alan McLean

BELFAST: Ian Crozier replaced by Lee Reynolds; Tom Hartley replaced by Ciaran Beattie; Danny Lavery replaced by Mary Clarke; Connor Maskey replaced by John Magee; Gerard O'Neill replaced by Arthur Carson; William Humphrey replaced by Nicola Verner; Robin Newton replaced by Brian Samuel Kennedy; Arder Carson replaced by William Gerard Groves; Hugh Smyth replaced by William Hutchinson

CARRICKFERGUS: Sean Neeson replaced by Gavin Trevor Norris; Stewart Dickson replaced by Richard Noel Williams; David Hilditch replaced by Fred Cobain

CASTLEREAGH: Judith Cochrane replaced by Vasundhara Kamble; Michael Copeland replaced by Christopher David McGimpsey; Jimmy Spratt replaced by Victoria Ja; Gareth Robinson replaced by Sharon Skillenne Nelson

COLERAINE: Adrian McQuillan replaced by Michelle Alexandra Knight McQuillan; Maurice Bradley replaced by Trevor Clarke; David McClarty replaced by Claire Elizabeth Sugden; Gerry McLaughlin replaced by Stephanie Dolores Quigley

COOKSTOWN: Ian McCrea replaced by William Daniel Buchanan

CRAIGAVON: Jo-Anne Dobson replaced by Colin Craig McCusker; Stephen Moutray replaced by Philip William Moutray; Sydney Anderson replaced by Jonathan Glen Buckley; and William Woolsey Smith replaced by Margaret Jean Tinsley

DERRY: Colum Eastwood replaced by Angela Dobbins; Gerry MacLochlainn replaced by Patrick McGinley; Maeve McLaughlin replaced by Bernard O'Hagan; John Tierney replaced by Shauna Cusack; Lynn Fleming replaced by Bridget Kinsella

DOWN: Peter Craig replaced by Gareth Sharvin; Eamonn O'Neill replaced by Laura Devlin

DUNGANNON: Bronwyn McGahan replaced by Dominic Joseph Molloy; Maurice Morrow replaced by Clement Leslie Cuthbertson; Desmond Donnelly replaced by Nuala Donnelly; Jim Hamilton replaced by Neil Somerville; Larry McLarnon replaced by Deirdre Maria Varsani

FERMANAGH: Phil Flanagan replaced by Stephen Frederick Huggett; Sean Lynch replaced by Thomas Vincent Maguire

LARNE: Oliver McMullan replaced by James McKeown

LIMAVADY: George Robinson replaced by James Edgar Scott

LISBURN: Paul Givan replaced by Jonathan Scott Carson; Jonathan Craig replaced by Sarah Gladys Yvonne Craig; Paul Stewart replaced by Luke Christopher Poots

MAGHERAFELT: Ian Milne replaced by Patricia Louise Smith; Sean Kerr replaced by Darren Oliver Totten; Kate Lagan replaced by Martin Gerard Kearney; Deborah Ni Shiadhail replaced by Gavin Thomas McFalone

NEWRY & MOURNE: Sean Rogers replaced by Brian Quinn; Sean O'Hare replaced by Gillian Fitzpatrick; Peter Kearney replaced by Sinead Ennis; Jimmy McCreesh replaced by Barra Peter O Muirí; Pat McGinn replaced by Dáire Hughes; Turlough Murphy replaced by Roisin Marie Mulgrew; Packie McDonald replaced by Elizabeth Catherine Brigid Kimmins; Colman Burns replaced by Michael James Larkin

NEWTOWNABBEY: Paula Bradley replaced by Phillip Brett; Paul Girvan replaced by Timothy Paul Girvan

NORTH DOWN: Steven Agnew replaced by Dr John Barry; Tony Hill replaced by Adam Harbinson; Ruby Cooling replaced by Roberta Mahood Dunlop; Gordon Dunne replaced by Stephen Dunne; Peter Weir replaced by Alistair John Cathcart; Alex Easton replaced by Terence Malcolm

OMAGH: Seamus Shields replaced by Rosemarie Shields; Ross Hussey replaced by Lesley Florence Vennard; Declan McAleer replaced by James Martin McColgan

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