20 December 2005

SF councillor not on mayor's Christmas list

Belfast Telegraph

By Lisa Smyth
20 December 2005

A war of words has erupted after it emerged that Coleraine Borough Council's only Sinn Fein councillor is to be excluded from the mayor's Christmas reception.

At the request of DUP mayor Timothy Deans, Councillor Billy Leonard is the only one of the 22 elected representatives in Coleraine who has not been invited to tomorrow's festive celebration.

It has emerged that Councillor Dean's decision does not have the backing of the deputy mayor of the borough, SDLP Alderman Maura Hickey.

In a statement released last night, Alderman Hickey said: "I have told the mayor that I disagree with his decision and I hope that both the mayor and Councillor Leonard can show generosity at this time, which I hope means that all of us can celebrate the true spirit of Christmas which is all about love, respect, and a genuine celebration of the birth of Jesus."

Councillor Deans last night defended his decision, saying that his party's policy states that the DUP "does not talk to or engage with" members of Sinn Fein.

He said that by excluding Councillor Leonard from the reception, which is funded by the borough's ratepayers, he is carrying out the wishes of the electorate who voted for him.

He added: "When Mr Leonard was with the SDLP, he was invited to council functions but as far as I am concerned, I turned my back on him when he turned his back on democracy and the ballot box."

However, councillor Leonard accused the DUP mayor of abusing ratepayers' money by taking the controversial decision to bar him from the Christmas party.

And he explained that he only became aware that he would not be welcome at the Christmas celebrations when he contacted the council offices to find out how many guests he could bring to the annual event.

"This is a very informal and people centred event, it should be inclusive and recognise everyone in the borough, yet the mayor has ignored official advice to that effect," said Councillor Leonard.

"Republicans and nationalists pay their rates, make a major contribution to life in the borough and the mayor with one decision based on political ignorance, has excluded them.

"This is not just about me," added Councillor Leonard.

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