Friday, 14 March 2008

11 Councils

The pressure was on – and the Executive made a decision. Faced with countless numbers of councillors who feared that they may not be given severance payments when they stood down, Ministers buckled and plucked a figure out of the air.

There was a real possibility that if a decision was not reached then the existing 26 councils would have to be re-elected next year. The re-organisation means that the current crop of councilors can avail of severance payments if they stand down at the end of the current term. The payments are likely to be approximately £1000 for every year served on a council – a sum not to be sniffed at for many long serving councilors. In addition, the lives of the current councils are likely to be extended until 2011 – so these councilors can keep claiming allowances for another 3 years – even though their democratic mandate expires next year. This should certainly keep some disgruntled DUP and Sinn Féin councillors happy.

The UUP Ministers voted against the proposal to have 11 new councils but hardly anyone noticed. Fred Cobain rushed to the cameras to condemn the ‘greening’ of Belfast. Fred obviously foresees a Belfast that continues to divide on orange and green lines for evermore. Belfast is changing surely our politics might change too Fred? Maybe a pro union party like yours could reach out to Catholics who might be Irish but proud to live in Belfast and content to live in the UK?

Anyhow, I suspect that Environment Minister Arlene Foster will appoint a Boundary Commission that realigns the City boundaries with the Westminster ones – bringing Twinbrook, Lagmore and the entire urban part of Castlereagh into the city.

Amidst all the fuss about the numbers and boundaries NILGA (the Northern Ireland Local Government Association) argued that the curtailed list of powers that were being given to the new councils compared to what had been envisaged under the Review of Public Administration meant that Northern Ireland would continue to have the weakest local government in Europe.

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