The value of sharing power: Rice [South Belfast News]

I am pleased about the election result for the Alliance Party. Overall, our vote held firm and we increased the number of Alliance councillors in Northern Ireland.

More locally, it was satisfying to be re-elected. In Castlereagh Borough Council, all Alliance sitting councillors were returned on the first count, while our new councillor, Judith Cochrane, was elected with the second highest number of preference votes in her area.

Meanwhile, former Belfast Lord Mayor, Tom Ekin, was re-elected from the Balmoral area, and watch out for Laganbank area representative, Allan Leonard, who polled well and will be working hard for victory next time round.

We believe that our good result was down to our record of hard work for all constituents and our vision of a shared society in Northern Ireland.

This has resulted in Alliance becoming the joint second largest party in Castlereagh Borough Council, and retaining the balance of power in Belfast City Council for the third consecutive term.

One of our election mottos was that where Alliance exercises power, it does so responsibly.

For example, the Alliance team of councillors in Belfast City Hall, led by Naomi Long, has already achieved a cross-community vote for the new Lord and Deputy Lord Mayor: the SDLP councillors voted for the DUP candidate for Lord Mayor, Wallace Browne, and the DUP councillors in return voted for the SDLP candidate for Deputy Lord Mayor, Pat Convey.

Such cross-community co-operation is a major step forward for Belfast City Council.

Indeed, even the DUP councillors in Castlereagh Borough Council would appear to be waking up to the value of sharing power.

After serving as councillor for the past 16 years, I was finally elected to the post of Deputy Mayor. Alliance’s electoral strength in Castlereagh would have given us the mayoralty in every one of the past seven terms under any system of proportionality.

People have been quite rightly been sceptical about the DUP’s support of Alliance’s proposals for a voluntary coalition, to help resolve the impasse at the Assembly, because of the DUP’s poor record of sharing on councils such as Castlereagh.

I hope that my election to Castlereagh Deputy Mayor proves to be a step towards a fairer deal for everyone. The jury on the DUP is still out.

What we have learnt is that where councils met up early in their term to consensually agree a framework for working, then everyone has a motivation for making progress. Where there is no such meeting, and individuals rely on complicated mathematical formula, like d’Hondt (“What’s that?” I hear you say), the elected representatives only work their own agenda and mandate. Hardly conducive to teamwork.

This is an important lesson for us, as the discussion on the reform of our local government continues. We want to ensure that power is genuinely shared in all of our councils, but that we’ve got teamwork, too.


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