The Belfast Telegraph recently ran an article on the allocations of positions on Belfast City Council which started with the sentence “A secret deal aimed at ousting Sinn Fein from all Belfast City Council positions for the next four years can be revealed today.” A document showing proposed allocations of Chairmen and Deputy Chairman over the next four years was printed. The article went on to say that the Alliance Party, the Ulster Unionists and the DUP had a secret pact.
The actual facts of the case are somewhat different. The document printed was a proposal emanating from the Ulster Unionists in May 1997, in the immediate aftermath of the Local Government Elections. This of course pre-dated the most recent IRA cease-fire and was produced at a time when the IRA were still involved in a terrorist campaign.
At that time, there were a lot of meetings between various party groups on Belfast City Council to discuss the allocation of posts on the Council. We turned down a Sinn Fein request to meet us and told them that, in the absence of a true and lasting cease-fire, we would not be supporting Sinn Fein for any position within the Council. We have also refused to support the PUP and UDP for any such position.
What the Alliance Group did do at the time was to try to reach agreement with the SDLP and the Ulster Unionists as to the allocation of positions within the Council. This did not prove possible, primarily because the SDLP were not prepared to agree to anything that did not involve Sinn Fein. The Alliance Party were, and still are, committed to ensuring the rotation of senior positions amongst all parties fully committed to the principles of democracy. As part of this commitment, we voted against the Ulster Unionists and the DUP to ensure the election of Alban Maginness as Belfast’s first nationalist Lord Mayor. Indeed, the year before, we supported the election of Alisdair McDonnell as Deputy Mayor, in spite of the opposition of some of his SDLP colleagues.
There was no formalised deal and we did not vote in accordance with the Ulster Unionist proposals on every occasion. Alliance have had no discussions or negotiations on this matter at any time with the DUP.
We are currently living in an evolving situation, with the advent of the second IRA cease-fire and the instigation of a Talks process involving Sinn Fein. The Alliance Party attitude to Sinn Fein is not cast in stone, and indeed it would be our wish that events develop in such a way that Sinn Fein reject their links with the IRA and become a purely democratic Party. At this time, however, I think that it is too early to determine this, and the Alliance Party would need some ‘confidence building measures’ from Sinn Fein to convince us that they have left the Armalite behind for ever, and are wedded to a non-violent future.
Once we feel that this has happened, we would be prepared to support Sinn Fein for positions with Belfast City Council. The timescale for change is difficult to predict at this stage and is more in the hands of Sinn Fein than ourselves.
To conclude, the Alliance Party has not entered into a secret pact with anyone and has not done anything in its dealings in Belfast Council that it has not been publicly advocating for several years.
Leader Alliance Party Group
Belfast City Council