21 May 2006

Alliance in Sinn Fein or Unionist Lord Mayor dilemma

Sunday Life

By Joe Oliver
21 May 2006

The party that holds the balance of power on Belfast City Council is facing a major dilemma over the election of a new Lord Mayor.

The four Alliance Party members are being asked to back Sinn Fein's nominated candidate - former IRA bomber, Caral ni Chuilin.

But they fear her appointment could be public relations disaster with a Royal visit and other events scheduled later this year to mark the centenary of the City Hall.

However, we can also reveal that they would have major difficulties with an Ulster Unionist candidate following the party's controversial alliance with PUP boss David Ervine.

Mr Ervine represents the Pottinger ward on the council and one member of the Alliance group told us:

"The credibility of the Ulster Unionist Party has been shot to smithereens.

"The IRA is on a recognised ceasefire, but the paramilitary group which Mr Ervine represents is not.

"He will obviously be joining his new colleagues in the council chamber, so the election of a member from that party would be difficult to support."

The Alliance councillor added: "Talks involving the various parties have taken place, but any final decision is probably going to come very late in the day."

The DUP's Wallace Browne is due to step down from the mayoral office when his term finishes at the end of the month.

The UUP will meet this week to select a candidate from three-long standing councillors - Ian Adamson, Bob Stoker and Jim Rodgers, who have all previously served as Lord Mayor.

Sinn Fein members, having nominated councillor Ni Chuilin, will argue that they are next in line for the top post.

The north Belfast councillor was jailed for nine years in the 1980s for her part in a foiled Provo bomb plot to wipe out RUC officers.

She served four years of her sentence for a string of terrorist offences, including possession of explosives with intent and membership of the IRA.

Meanwhile, the SDLP will also meet this week to select its candidate. Carmel Hanna is understood to be among the front-runners.

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