26 March 2006

Unionists bid to thwart Shinner mayoral hopes

Sunday Life

Joe Oliver
26 March 2006

Unionist councillors in Belfast are trying to cut a deal with the other parties in a last-ditch bid to stop a convicted Provo BOMBER taking the post of Lord Mayor.

But one UUP councillor admitted yesterday: "If recent years are anything to go by, then Sinn Fein are virtually past the post.

"There is a lot of activity behind the scenes, because there are concerns at a republican holding the chain of office in the centenary year of the City Hall."

The DUP's Wallace Browne is due to step down from the mayoral office when his term ends in May.

And Sinn Fein have insisted that they are next in line for the top post.

The party is maintaining a low profile over its nominee - but it is widely expected to be former republican prisoner Caral ni Chuilin.

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

The north Belfast councillor, who represents the Oldpark ward, served just four years of her sentence for a string of terrorist offences - including possession of explosives with intent and membership of the IRA.

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

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

The UUP is to meet shortly to select its candidate from three long-serving councillors - Ian Adamson, Bob Stoker and Jim Rodgers - who have all previously served as Lord Mayor.

They can rely on the support of the DUP, PUP and one independent.

But it is the four Alliance councillors on the 51-member body who hold the balance of power.

Another UUP councillor told Sunday Life: "Obviously, there is some horse-trading to be done and, doubtless, some may go with the argument that it is Sinn Fein's turn to take the mayoral post.

"However, things can change if people are open to argument.

"And if just one councillor was detained or absent on the night, then you could be looking at a totally different ball game."

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