SINN Fein’s Oliver McMullan has tendered his resignation from Larne Council.
The Cushendall man, who topped the poll in the Coast Road district electoral area in May and also claimed an East Antrim seat in the NI Assembly, is to make way for nominated replacement James McKeown, from Carnlough.
Sinn Fein disapproves of dual mandates and it was almost certain that Mr McMullan would resign from the council at some stage. Legislation introduced ahead of this year’s election allowed for “casual vacancies” on local authorities to be filled by party nomination, as is the case at the Assembly. The new law aimed at cutting double-jobbing dispensed with the requirement to hold a by-election if one or more councillors objected to a co-option.
Announcing his resignation at the newly opened Sinn Fein constituency office at High Street in Carnlough, Oliver McMullan described his election as “historic for Sinn Fein and for the Coast Road”. He was the republican party’s first councillor in Larne and the first Sinn Fein representative to win an Assembly seat in East Antrim.
He said he had mixed feelings about standing down from local government after 19 years as a councillor in Moyle and Larne.
“It has been a very big chunk of my life, but a very rewarding time during which I have learned a lot and I would like to think that I have contributed a lot.
“I believe that public confidence can only be earned if communities have the strong leadership they deserve; leadership that can deliver. Sinn Fein has done that in East Antrim, which I am very proud to continue representing as an MLA.
“James joining the council gives us a bigger and stronger team and I would ask people to give him the same support they have given me. The electorate has endorsed the Sinn Fein mandate and James will be carrying on that mandate on behalf of the party.”
Mr McMullan commended Larne Borough Council staff for their helpfulness. “I thank the chief executive and all her staff who have always been very helpful and courteous and actually went out of their way to help me,” he said.
Of his council colleagues, he remarked: “We have had our differences, but to be fair the Team Larne approach has been working. Sinn Fein has got representation on committees and the chairmanship of the public services committee, which shows a willingness to work together.
“The council has gone out to public consultation on equality issues and I hope that it rescinds its decision on the composition of the new policing and community safety partnership, because the people who are going to lose out - not Sinn Fein, but the people who elected us - are demanding it.”
Mr McKeown, 53, is a carer for his wife and they have three adult children and five grand-children. He was born in Glenarm, lived in Larne and has been resident in Carnlough for the past 13 years. He has been a party worker since Sinn Fein started organising seriously in East Antrim about a decade ago.
Described by Mr McMullan as “one of our foremost activists” the former construction worker, who stood unsuccessfully for council in 2005, has identified equality issues, employment and tourism as his main areas of concern.
”We need a real boost for tourism, both financially and in terms of making the village more attractive for people to stop in,” said Mr McKeown, who added that a Sinn Fein meeting with local businesses in the past week had been “very successful”.
He said he will take up local campaigns for a play park at the Croft end of the village and for new bus shelters in Carnlough, while lobbying for more jobs.
Mr McMullan credited his successor-in-waiting with starting the momentum that has resulted in a Ledcom Exploring Enterprise course being held in Carnlough for the first time.
“This came off the back of interest by James in the lack of employment opportunities in Carnlough,” he added.
“In the longer term, we would like to see land set aside where small business can be set up and given a chance to grow,“ said Mr McKeown. “The council has land in the village that could accommodate that.”
Oliver McMullan polled 613 first-preference votes in the council election, representing 18.5 per cent of the Coast DEA vote. In 2005, Mr McKeown polled 12 per cent with 411 first-preferences. He was neck-and-neck with sitting Alliance councillor Gerardine Mulvenna for the last of the five seats. Mr McKeown had 30 more first preferences, but Ms Mulvenna shaded it on transfers.
In the run-up to the 2011 election, unionists mooted the possibility of a legal challenge to Mr McMullan’s nomination, claiming that the did not meet the criteria of either being resident in or having his main place of work in the borough. To date, there has not been a challenge and Mr McMullan said he has “heard nothing” since be was interviewed by police shortly after the election.