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Unionists in uproar as Alliance 'partners' SF

(Barry McCaffrey, Irish News)

Belfast's new lord mayor Tom Ekin was last night (Tuesday) accused of having 'blood on his hands' after he voted to elect Sinn Féin's Joe O'Donnell as his deputy. Unionists in Belfast City Hall went into uproar last night after the newly elected Alliance lord mayor used his casting vote to ensure that Sinn Féin's Joe O'Donnell became the city's new deputy lord mayor.

It was a night of political twists and turns as Mr Ekin was himself only elected on the casting vote of outgoing lord mayor Martin Morgan.

While it was thought a deal had already been done between Sinn Féin and Alliance, it quickly became clear that all was not well at the start of last night's council meeting.

Alliance engaged in political horse trading right up until the last minute, brokering potential deals with Sinn Féin and the DUP at the same time.

Ulster Unionist Chris McGimpsey, the DUP's Eric Smyth and Alliance's Tom Ekin all threw their political hats into the ring to become lord mayor.

With no guarantee that Alliance would support Sinn Féin for deputy, republicans refused to support Mr Ekin in the first round of voting.

When Chris McGimpsey was eliminated from the count it was a two horse race between councillors Ekin and Smyth.

Another round of political bartering ensued between Alliance and Sinn Féin.

When the crunch vote came Sinn Féin rowed-in behind the Alliance candidate.

However with the votes tied at 25/25 it took Martin Morgan's casting vote to ensure Tom Ekin was elected.

But more city hall fireworks were to come.

In what looked like pay-back for Sinn Féin's earlier snub, Alliance's three councillor's abstained from the first round of voting in the deputy's election.

This ensured Sinn Féin's Joe O'Donnell failed to be elected on the first count.

In the second round it was a head-to-head between Mr O'Donnell and the DUP's Eric Smyth.

As Lord Mayor, Councillor Ekin was the first to cast his vote. When he chose Councillor O'Donnell the unionist benches went into uproar. With all votes cast it was again tied at 25/25.

When the new lord mayor used his casting vote to elect Joe O'Donnell there were cries of "traitor" from the unionist benches.

Eric Smyth shouted at Tom Ekin, "your hands are covered in blood, you shameless traitor".

The DUP's Ruth Patterson shouted at Alliance: "We'll not forget this. Your days are numbered."

When Sammy Wilson and Martin Morgan engaged in what is described in polite circles as a "heated debate", Tom Ekin pleaded that events were being captured by TV crews.

Later the new mayor dismissed the DUP outburst as "showmanship" for the media and insisted that all parties worked together behind closed doors.

"Councillors voted for progress," Mr Ekin said. "People want to see a positive image of Belfast and that is what I intend to work for."

Defending the decision to vote for Joe O'Donnell, the new lord mayor said.

"I hope he does a good job.

We need to break away from this system of tribal voting."

Mr O'Donnell last night welcomed his election as deputy lord mayor, stating:

"What this city needs now is everyone working together and we as a party intend to play our part."

June 3, 2004
________________

This article appeared first in the June 2, 2004 edition of the Irish News.


This article appears thanks to the Irish News. Subscribe to the Irish News



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