The SDLP risked a major split in the party if it had supported a Sinn Féin Lord Mayor
On Monday night Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers was elected Belfast’s first citizen with SDLP and DUP support.
He beat off the challenge of Sinn Féin councillor Tierna Cunningham, who had been favourite for the post.
Had the SDLP supported Ms Cunningham, rather than the Ulster Unionist, Ms Cunningham – who is originally from Ladybrook but represents the Castle ward in North Belfast – would have taken the top job.
The Andersonstown News understands half of the SDLP’s eight City Hall councillors were prepared to back the Sinn Féin candidate, but vocal opposition from other councillors resulted in a change of heart.
Rather than risk a split in the party, the SDLP group voted for Jim Rodgers.
In return for this the Ulster Unionists backed SDLP councillor Bernie Kelly’s successful bid for Deputy Mayor.
Despite having only eight councillors and being one of the smallest parties in the City Hall, the SDLP has dominated the top jobs over recent years.
Pat Convery was Deputy Mayor in 2005, Pat McCarthy was the 2006 Lord Mayor, and now Bernie Kelly is Deputy Mayor.
Sinn Féin’s Paul Maskey accused the SDLP of doing a “dirty deal” with the Ulster Unionists.
“They [the SDLP] were determined to stop Sinn Féin getting the Lord Mayor’s post,” he said.
“We have been meeting with the SDLP for weeks but they struck a deal with the Ulster Unionists 30 minutes before the vote. Despite being the largest party in the City Hall, Sinn Féin has once again been denied the Mayor’s job.
“Had Tierna been elected she would have been only the second female mayor in the City Hall’s 110-year history, and only the second republican.”
This just shows what a mess the SDLP is when it is considered less controversial to support a Unionist politician over a fellow Nationalist.