SDLP veteran Declan O’Loan’s attack on council ‘sour grapes’

Long-serving SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan described Mid and East Antrim Council as a 'cold house for nationalists'
Long-serving SDLP councillor Declan O'Loan described Mid and East Antrim Council as a 'cold house for nationalists'

A DUP councillor has hit back at claims that a unionist-dominated council has not given due regard to its minority nationalist population.

It comes after veteran SDLP councillor Declan O’Loan announced he will not be standing in the council elections in May, having served 26 years in his role.

In a parting shot, Mr O’Loan criticised Mid and East Antrim Borough Council and branded it an unwelcome place for nationalists.

But DUP group leader on the council, Alderman Gregg McKeen, accused Mr O’Loan of attempting to “stir up tensions”.

The local authority is heavily controlled by unionists, with 30 of the 40 councillors coming from unionist parties.

There are just two Sinn Fein members on the council, and Mr O’Loan is currently the sole SDLP representative.

The former North Antrim MLA said his decision to not contest the upcoming election was “in no way related” to the new SDLP-Fianna Fail partnership, which he said he supports “on balance”.

Mr O’Loan added that he had made the decision at the time of the last council election in 2014, stating: “I think that it is time to hand over to others.”

However, he said he would “not be sad to leave” the council behind, stating: “It is very much a unionist-dominated council, and it would have been easy for it to show some regard for the minority nationalist population.

“Decision after decision has created a cold house for nationalists, the council being seemingly oblivious to the fact that a split community will ultimately destroy its plans to improve the economy and social welfare of its area. The collapse of the Assembly has taught it nothing.”

Mr McKeen labelled the remarks “sour grapes”, adding: “Rather than bowing out gracefully, this is an just another attempt to have a go at unionism.

“To say that the decisions we have taken as a council only benefit one side of the community in Mid and East Antrim is simply not true.

“These sorts of remarks only serve to stoke up tensions, which is what Mr O’Loan has spent much of his last term doing.”

Despite the war of words, Mr McKeen wished his council colleague well for the future.

Mr O’Loan entered Northern Ireland politics when the Troubles were at their height, having been inspired by SDLP founder John Hume.

“I wanted to make a contribution to reconciliation in this deeply divided society. The SDLP was the right vehicle to do this,” he added.