12 February 2006

City Hall bombshell

Sunday Life

Convicted 'terrorist' tipped as Lord Mayor

Joe Oliver
12 February 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAn IRA bomber is tipped to be the next mayor of Belfast.

Unionists reacted with fury at the news that former republican prisoner Caral ni Chuilin is Sinn Fein's nominee for the mayor's chair in the council's centenary year.

Ni Chuilin was jailed for nine years in 1989 for her part in a Provo bomb-plot to wipe out RUC officers.

One unionist councillor told Sunday Life last night: "We would be implacably opposed to a former republican prisoner representing this council - particularly at a time when we are celebrating the centenary of the City Hall."

Ni Chuilin (41) has emerged as the front-runner to succeed the DUP's Wallace Browne when his term ends in May.

She was jailed in 1989 for nine years for a string of terrorist offences - including possession of explosives with intent and membership of the IRA - but served just four years of her sentence.

Ni Chuilin was co-opted on to Belfast City Council in 2003 as the representative for the Oldpark ward following the resignation of Gerard Brophy.

One senior Sinn Fein source insisted yesterday that the party had yet to nominate a candidate for the top post.

But he added: "Caral is a well-respected member of the community and is renowned for her hard work and dedication to human rights."

Ni Chuilin - who was convicted under her anglicised name Caroline Cullen - also sits as a member of the Belfast Education and Library Board.

The only previous woman to be elected to the post of Lord Mayor was Ulster Unionist Grace Bannister in 1981.

Sitting Sinn Fein councillor Alex Maskey also made history in 2002 when he became the first republican to take the top post.

The 51-member council is virtually split down the middle - with the Alliance Party holding the balance of power.

But both the DUP and Ulster Unionists groups are to meet shortly to draw up a mayoral strategy.

One DUP councillor told us: "As the largest party in the City Hall, I think there would be support for us to take the post for a second term after the great work that Wallace [Browne] has done."

slnews@belfasttelegraph.co.uk

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