By Conor Sharkey
STRABANE’S new council chairman has been accused of ‘playing to the unionist gallery’ after he refused to shake the hand of his Sinn Féin deputy.
The DUP’s Thomas Kerrigan took over the chain of office from Sinn Féin’s Brian McMahon last Wednesday evening.
But when pressed to shake the hand of his incoming vice-chair, Sinn Féin’s Dan Kelly, Cllr Kerrigan refused.
His decision was mirrored at Omagh District Council where the DUP’s Errol Thompson avoided contact with his fellow Sinn Féin councillors. In Derry meanwhile, the UUP’s Mary Hamilton refused to allow a Sinn Féin councillor to place the chain of office on her.
Speaking to the Strabane Chronicle following last week’s controversy, outgoing Sinn Féin vice chair Kieran McGuire has accused Thomas Kerrigan of playing to the unionist gallery with the snub. He added that the DUP needed to accept that they are in a power sharing agreement whether Cllr Kerrigan likes it or not.
“They don’t seem to be able to come to terms with the issue of equality and that has been reflected over and over. You only have to look at Antrim where a unionist councillor said that pigs will fly before they allow a Sinn Féin mayor.
“The reality is though that they are sharing power but when it comes to this basic symbol, it seems to be an obstacle for them. And it’s not just a slight on Sinn Féin as a party but on those who vote for them. By not affording our party this basic symbol of equality they are disrespecting our electorate,” said Cllr McGuire.
Accusing the new council head of playing to the unionist gallery, the Derg Republican added, “When you consider how much relationships within Strabane Council have improved, this sort of thing is nonsensical.
“All 16 councillors work day-to-day for the good of the community but refusing to shake hands seems to be some sort of comfort blanket the DUP draw succour from. They are sharing power but when it comes to public appearances, they take it down to the lowest common denominator and play to the gallery,” Cllr McGuire said.