06 January 2006

SDLP Hits Out At Sinn Fein 'Super Council' Stance

Derry Journal

Friday 6th January 2006

A row has broken out between rival Derry nationalist parties over the shake up of local government structures with SDLP Councillor Helen Quigley criticising Sinn Fein over its policy on 'super councils.' In November last year the government announced a major revamp of local structures, which includes slashing the number of councils on the North from 26 to seven, a move supported by Sinn Fein but bitterly opposed by the SDLP.

SDLP councillor Helen Quigley who has been vociferous in criticism of the new set up, last night called on Sinn Fein to review its position on the issue. "Nationalists were stunned that Sinn Fein signed up to a deal that would let state killers off the hook. They are still puzzled that Sinn Fein is backing Peter Hain's plan to repatriation the North with seven supercouncils," she said. "Sinn Fein are not only isolated on backing the councils plan, they are divided as well. Many of their own members have no idea why they suddenly reversed their position and supported giving extra powers to super-councils with absolutely no guarantees that they won't turn into super-Ballymenas."

However, Sinn Fein's Gerry MacLochlainn reiterated his party's support for the seven council model arguing that increased power will 'empower communities' particularly in the North West, to drive forward economic development. Speaking today Colr. MacLochlainn refuted claims that his party was divided on the issue.

"Sinn Fein conducted extensive and lengthy consultation throughout our membership and support base and with local community and voluntary sector and business communities. The overwhelming support for larger councils with real power as opposed to local talking shops for powerless local politicians was made clear to us from all sectors," he said. "Sinn FÈin, with the support of other political parties in Derry, recently argued for effective cross-border cooperation and the development of all-Ireland approaches to tackle the problems faced by cancer patients in the North West and for an effective transport policy that would protect and expand the rail service to Derry and beyond to Donegal. The three proposed new councils that abut the border will provide local government structure able to link into the existing cross-border architecture to develop an effective regional strategy. This is an opportunity we should seize with enthusiasm." Colr. MacLochlainn added that the SDLP suggestion that the rejig amounts to a repatriation of the Six Counties was 'absurd.' "The Six Counties at the minute are divided into 26 councils and unless a party is seriously suggesting that local government is abolished altogether then the Six Counties will be divided into regional council areas," he said.

"The political geography and demographics won't change whatever number of councils there are. Councils located west of the Bann - however many - will continue to be majority Nationalist as will those east of the Bann with the exception of Belfast be Unionist dominated. This is particularly true of the 15 council model. "Coupled with the statutory equality and power-sharing provisions which will be part and parcel of this reform, the seven council model is the only one that ensures no council area will contain a minority community of less than 25 per cent."

He went on to claim that any party rejecting the seven council model was more concerned with protecting its local power base than driving Derry forward. "The SDLP needs to climb out of its defensive bunker and join with those of us intent on seizing this chance for Derry to take its rightful place as the regional hub of the North West," he said.

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