Alliance to forfeit seat on policing partnership

THE Alliance Party has said it will forfeit one of its two seats on Larne’s new Policing and Community Safety Partnership.

The party announced the move ahead of Larne Borough Council’s monthly meeting on Monday, November 7 when a controversial policy and resources committee decision will come up for ratification.

Both SDLP councillor Martin Wilson and Sinn Fein’s Oliver McMullan have complained that the nationalist community is under-represented on the PCSP make-up agreed on October 10, when a d’Hondt vote resulted in four DUP, two Ulster Unionist and two Alliance members of the body which replaces the district policing partnership and the community safety partnership.

The 15-member model recommended by the committee would also comprise seven unelected members.

Unionist councillors have said the d’Hondt formula for proportional representation is favoured by other councils and is deployed in the Assembly, while pointing out that the composition of the PCSP will be balanced in the appointment of independent members.

However, Cllr Wilson made it clear he would not recommend that anybody from the nationalist community put themselves forward and Cllr McMullan accused unionists of “gerrymandering” to ensure Sinn Fein was not represented on the new policing liaison body.

Alliance would have two seats on the PCSP whether d’Hondt or a simple power-sharing arrangement was implemented. However, DUP representation would be halved to two seats if d’Hondt were scrapped and the party has said it has already sacrificed a mayorship and chairmanships in the interest of responsibility-sharing on the council, claiming there has been “no reciprocation”.

Cllr John Mathews, who was the only one of the three Alliance representatives present at the committee meeting, voted against d’Hondt, saying he believed the outcome was a “retrograde step for Larne” and urged further debate at the November monthly meeting.

Now Alliance councillor Michael Lynch has told the Larne Times that the party is willing to forfeit a seat in order to help resolve the impasse.

“The three of us have talked this through and decided we will take only one of the two seats we are entitled to on the partnership, which will leave another place to be filled,” he said.

Asked why Alliance was willing to make the sacrifice, Cllr Lynch replied: “It’s not just out of the goodness of our hearts. We recognise the importance of the partnership, but the fact is that it doesn’t really fit in with some of our other interests on the council.”

The gesture throws up a number of scenarios which will undoubtedly require clarification. Unionists will be asking if the council is required to take another vote to fill the seat Alliance has surrendered and it remains to be seen which other party would benefit. The committee recommendation was passed on a 5-4 majority, with five councillors absent, and a fuller turn-out might result in a 19-member PCSP, comprising 10 councillors and nine appointees, which could mean representation not only for Sinn Fein and SDLP, but also for TUV alderman Jack McKee and one of the two independent members of the council.