SDLP councillor Gillian Fitzpatrick to take reins as council chairwoman

SDLP councillor Gillian Fitzpatrick to take reins as council chairwoman

1 June 2016

THE SDLP’s Gillian Fitzpatrick will tonight be formally appointed Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s new chairwoman.

She takes over from Sinn Fein’s Mickey Ruane, while DUP councillor Garth Craig is set to be confirmed as the local authority’s new vice-chairman.

Ms Fitzpatrick was selected by her party three weeks ago to become the district’s new first citizen, defeating Rowallane’s Terry Andrews who had been hotly tipped to secure his party’s nomination for the top post.

Tonight’s annual meeting marks the first anniversary of the local authority’s formal launch last year following the merger of Newry and Mourne and Down councils. The new council is third largest of the Province’s so-called super councils covering a huge area from Strangford Lough to Carlingford Lough.

On the eve of tonight’s annual council meeting, the SDLP met in a Downpatrick hotel to decide who would be co-opted to replace former Downpatrick councillor Colin McGrath who was elected to the Assembly last month.

Three candidates are in the running — John Trainor, the grandson of former SDLP stalwart Sean L. Quinn, community worker Macartan Digney and Michael McMillan who works for South Belfast MLA Claire Hanna. A senior official from SDLP headquarters was in Downpatrick to oversee the selection process.

The Recorder understands the three candidates in the race to replace Mr McGrath have already been interviewed by senior party officers in Belfast and it was down to delegates at last night’s meeting to choose the man they wanted.

While local party representatives are remaining tight-lipped about whom they think will be successful, what is clear is less than 24 hours after being co-opted, the candidate will be taking his place in Newry, Mourne and Down Council’s debating chamber and allocated positions on a number of the local authority’s statutory committees.

The SDLP has already decided that Newry councillor, Gary Stokes, will be the party’s new council leader, succeeding Colin McGrath.

Councillor Craig was the unanimous choice of the DUP to take on the vice-chairman’s role. His party colleagues 

say the former senior civil servant is well equipped for the job and will work well alongside the new SDLP chairman.

Also during tonight’s annual meeting the new chair and vice-chairs of the local authority’s statutory committees and outside bodies and organisations will also be appointed.

The Ulster Unionist Party will nominate the chairman of the Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee, with the SDLP at the helm of the Active and Healthy Communities Committee. 

Sinn Fein will chair the Regulatory and Technical Services Committee and also head up the Planning Committee, with Alliance’s sole representative Patrick Brown, set to be appointed chairman of the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee.