F ollowing last week’s election, Sinn Féin is the biggest party on Belfast City Council with 19 seats, six more that their nearest rivals, the DUP on 13.
The new ‘super council’ will not set sail until next April, until which time it will shadow the existing Council and Councillors.
Sinn Féin’s Council leader in Belfast, Jim McVeigh, said the party will use its increased mandate to drive forward the issues that they have been working on in recent times.
“It was a fantastic picture for the party right across Ireland but certainly in Belfast too,” he told the Andersonstown News.
“In Belfast we increased out first preference votes and the number of seats we have and we have opened up the gap between ourselves and the next biggest party, the DUP.
“It is disappointing that we lost a few councillors in Caoimhín [Mac Giolla Mhín] and Tierna [Cunningham] but as a party we are always looking at the long term and we are determined to build on what we have now to become not only the biggest party, but the majority party in Belfast City Hall.
“In the meantime, we intend to use our increased mandate to drive forward change, promote the equality agenda and bring forward phase two of the investment strategy.
“Equality will be a central plank of our policy going forward and in terms of the new area of the Colin coming into Belfast, we want to tackle the legacy of discrimination there.
“We will use our new strength to swiftly reverse decades of discrimination in the Colin area, starting with a new leisure centre that will be built in Twinbrook.”
For the first time, the ultra-unionist Traditional Unionist Voice will have a seat at Belfast City Council. Jolene Bunting hit the headlines at the weekend after securing a seat in the Court ward. However, it was sectarian comments she made on Facebook in recent times that drew media attention rather than her victory.
Councillor McVeigh said his party will not be tolerating such views at City Hall and he urged Councillor Bunting to leave her discriminatory views at home.
“Her card is marked, she had better be on her best behaviour because we won’t be tolerating that sort of sectarianism and prejudice and will happily put her in her place if she tries to bring any of that nonsense to City Hall,” he said.
While the DUP suffered the biggest reversal of fortunes, with the loss of three seats on Council, the SDLP lost one seat. High-profile party figure Tim Attwood held on to his seat, despite a long and gruelling wait to get over the line.
“The SDLP ran a strong and energetic campaign in West Belfast which saw Councillor Brian Heading and I elected to the new Belfast City Council, although in my case I had a Lazarus-like comeback,” smiled Tim. “The vote for Councillor Colin Keenan in Court was also strong, especially given the boundary changes.”
Councillor Attwood says he envisages more positive outcomes in the new super council given that it will have more powers than its current counterpart.
“As Tip O’Neill said, all politics is local. The SDLP will listen and learn from the voters who have expressed deep concern about important local issues.
“With the new Belfast City Council, it is vital that we develop and deliver a coherent action plan for the West which will produce real outcomes on jobs, investment, regeneration and actions which will tackle the deep inequalities that continue to exist in the area.
“The new powers of planning, regeneration and community planning mean we have a unique opportunity to deliver a new politics in our city that lives up to the daily needs and great hopes of our people.
“The European elections demonstrate how polarised politics has become in the North, especially with unionism moving to the right. The SDLP’s positive campaign and message was right – 12 more votes in each ballot box meant there could have been two nationalist seats.
“The SDLP will continue to stand for accommodation and building an equal, shared and just future. We will demand good government which gives hope to working families and people in need,” he added.