Politicians opposed to the seven new super councils planned for the North were accused today of being more concerned about their own careers than what is best for local government.
Sinn Féin vice president Pat Doherty made the claim after the Democratic Unionists, the Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and the Alliance Party criticised Boundaries Commissioner Dick Mackenzie’s vision of a new seven-council system.
Mr Doherty, whose party is the only one to support the seven-council proposal, also claimed arguments for an 11 or 15 model did not hold up to scrutiny.
“The 15 and 11 models could be described as halfway houses, which neither retain local identity nor afford locally elected representatives with the necessary powers or resources to bring about meaningful change within their local areas,” the West Tyrone MP argued.
“For example, it is only under the seven model that sufficient powers and financial resources would be transferred to councils to enable them to draw up and implement meaningful socio-economic development strategies for their areas.
“The 15 and 11 models could also serve to perpetuate the duplication of bureaucracy and eat up ratepayers’ money that could be better used in improving frontline council services.”
Mr Mackenzie yesterday announced boundary changes to the seven new councils envisaged last year in the British government’s review of public administration.
Under his plan, Belfast would be a bigger council than was originally planned, swallowing up parts of Castlereagh, Lisburn and North Down council areas.
The other councils would be known as:
:: Inner East Local Government District, incorporating Antrim, Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey Councils and the remainder of Lisburn City Council
:: East Local Government District, comprising Ards, Down, parts of North Down and Castlereagh Councils
:: South Local Government District, made up of Armagh, Banbridge, Craigavon and Newry and Mourne
:: West Local Government District, incorporating Cookstown, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Fermanagh and Omagh
:: North-West Local Government District, comprising Derry, Limavady, Magherafelt and Strabane and part of Coleraine
:: North-East Local Government District, made up of Ballymena, Ballymoney, Larne, Moyle and a major part of Coleraine.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association has criticised Mr Mackenzie’s plan.
Parties also highlighted his failure to come up with imaginative names for the new councils around which people could unite.
The DUP’s Mervyn Storey and the UUP’s Jim Wilson both insisted the 11 or 15 council model would be better.
The SDLP’s Tommy Gallagher and Patricia Lewsley rounded on Sinn Féin for supporting a model that under the Boundaries Commissioner’s plans could see nationalist districts based in Lisburn swallowed up by the new Belfast council.
This, Ms Lewsley claimed, would make the nationalist community even more of a minority on the proposed new Inner East council.
Mr Doherty countered: “There is a strong feeling in the community that some councillors are more concerned about maintaining their own careers rather than putting in place a local government structure that would have sufficient powers and allocated resources to bringing about meaningful change for the ratepayers of the different districts
“The seven-council model is the only one we have seen so far to provide protection for all minorities.
“It would ensure that within each and every council area there would be a minority of at least 20%.
“Those who advocate 11 or 15 are failing to tell people that this would result in significant minorities being trapped within council areas where their rights would not be represented or protected.
“Adherence to firm equality and power-sharing legislation would be in-built prerequisites for councillors serving into these new councils and the exclusion of minorities like we presently have in Lisburn, Newtownabbey, Ballymena etcetera would not be able to happen.
“Within the Review of Public Administration and the changes to health, education and council bodies the rights of public-sector workers must be fully protected.”