A DUP decision to shut republicans out from the Newtownabbey policing partnership is simply a return to the dark days of gerrymandering, Sinn Féin said this week.
Sinn Féin councillor for Newtownabbey Gerry O’Reilly was speaking after Monday night’s council meeting in which the members voted on the structure of the District Policing Partnership come April next year.
The members had two choices; one to keep the system as it was with 17 members or the other to have 19 members on the DPP, meaning all parties elected to the council would be represented.
All parties, bar the DUP, wanted the second option, however because the council is dominated by the DUP the decision was taken to have 17 members, effectively keeping Sinn Féin out of scrutinising police in Newtownabbey.
Gerry O’Reilly, who was the Sinn Féin councillor who would have sat on the DPP, accused the DUP of deliberately voting to keep a republican out of an important Newtownabbey policing watchdog.
"This is a major set back for equality, clearly the tired old politics of the gerrymander are still alive and kicking in Newtownabbey Council,” he said,
“The DUP's decision to exclude over 2,000 Sinn Féin voters from representation on the new policing structures runs totally against the vast majority of people's wishes.
“This included some DUP councillors in the chamber that let me know afterwards that they were personally ashamed but were forced to toe their party line.”
Councillor O’Reilly said the DUP decision is an attempt to go back to the old days of the unionist-dominated council.
“Sinn Féin last May entered Newtownabbey Council with a inclusive and co-operative working spirit. This is the first time the rejectionists in the DUP have managed to revert to the bad old days when Newtownabbey council was a by-word for sectarianism,” he said.
The DUP has also been heavily criticised by the Alliance Party, with mayor of Newtownabbey Billy Webb accusing them of depriving the nationalist population of Newtownabbey a voice on policing in the area.
The DUP on the council is understood to have been split on the issue, with a narrow majority voting to exclude Sinn Féin at a group meeting before the council meeting. At the full meeting the group then voted along the party lines with some DUP members understood to be privately unhappy at the decision.
When contacted by the North Belfast News, Paul Girvan, DUP leader on Newtownabbey Borough Council said his party agreed to vote as a group but conceded that it might create tension within the council.
“As of a lot of things on council a decision was made, it probably doesn’t do a lot to improve relations, that was not the intention,” he said.
“However it is several months away before it even begins, so there is an opportunity to change things