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Clap trap and carve up claims at council

By Paul Ainsworth

THE election of new leaders to Castlereagh Borough Council has led to a bitter spat, with accusations of a unionist carve-up being dismissed as “temper tantrums”. The less than harmonious Annual General Meeting on Monday saw Ulster Unionist Michael Henderson elected Mayor, with DUP Councillor Tommy Stanford his Deputy. However, Carryduff Alliance councillor Geraldine Rice, her party’s group leader on the council which takes in parts of South Belfast, said it was “disgraceful” her party was denied either position when they have six seats on the local authority, compared to the UUP’s three.

The row echoes similar spats in councils across the North, including Craigavon, where unionist reps have been accused of hogging top positions despite being outnumbered by other parties.

However, the accusations of “dirty deals” by Ms Rice have prompted the DUP’s top man in Castlereagh, Jimmy Spratt, to dismiss her claims as “claptrap” saying it was difficult to support Alliance members on the council due to their lack of “positive attitude”.

Following Monday’s AGM, Councillor Rice criticised the council machinations which have seen Alliance take the Deputy seat just twice in 21 years, and the Mayor’s chair only once, despite now being the council’s second largest party.

“We added two more councillors during last year’s local elections, bringing our total to six overall. Despite this fact, we have once again been denied the top position we are democratically entitled to. It should be no real surprise, given the DUP leader Peter Robinson likes to talk about a shared future but over the past 30 years in Castlereagh Council, he and his party have shown that to be just talk by them. And, despite what Mike Nesbit may say in Stormont, his party is doing these dirty deals in Councils under the name of unionist unity.

“We were hopeful things were changing in Castlereagh and other parties were moving on from the sectarian politics of the past but this is a clear sign that is not the case on this council. Only last week Ballymena appointed its first nationalist mayor and we had hoped Castlereagh would show the same maturity.”

Reacting to the claims, Councillor Jimmy Spratt, who also sits as an MLA for South Belfast said: “Unfortunately there are some within the Alliance group in Castlereagh who also prefer temper tantrums to working with other parties.

“If there was a more positive attitude displayed by Alliance to building consensus within Castlereagh then other parties may be more willing to support them. The DUP across Northern Ireland is willing to support the election of those from across the community who display a positive spirit towards their Council colleagues and the local community.”

He added: “Calling this a carve-up is just clap-trap. Instead of lecturing others they might wish to actually work constructively and build consensus within Castlereagh for the good of all its citizens.”



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