18 April 2006

MPs open battle over super councils plan

Belfast Telegraph

By Brian Walker
18 April 2006

Battle commences today to try to force NIO ministers to change their minds over replacing the 26 district councils with seven "super councils".

Most political parties in the province believe the move will amount to a "repartition of Northern Ireland."

MPs returning from the Easter break are debating a Government order to appoint a new boundary commissioner and assistant commissioners to divide new council areas into 60 wards.

The seven council solution recommended by the review of pubic administration and approved by Peter Hain is supported only by Sinn Fein.

Ministers' claim that 62% of those consulted by the review approved the seven council solution has already been dismissed by both unionist parties and the SDLP as a fix.

New council boundaries will be based on amalgamations of present council districts as follows:

Coleraine, Ballymoney, Moyle, Ballymena and Larne.

Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Antrim and Lisburn City, in a "croissant", much disliked by both unionist parties for lacking a common identity and natural accountability.

North Down, Newtownards, Castlereagh, Down, provoking SDLP criticism for Down's remoteness and different political allegiance from the others.

Newry and Mourne, Craigavon, Banbridge and Armagh.

Omagh, Dungannon and South Tyrone, Fermanagh and Cookstown, containing some bitter rivals.

Derry City Council area, Limavady, Strabane and Magherafelt.

Belfast would remain intact as the province's only hung council.

The new council carve-up is closely tied up with the Assembly's recall from May 15.

The Government is hinting that the parties could influence the shape and role of the councils if only they could agree on a form of government.

A local government task force has already been formed to drive the changes through by 2008.

Mr Hain has already invited the parties to contribute.

Today, MPs will only be able to vote for or against the order but not to make changes to it.

The committee session begins a fortnight's intensive activity at Westminster to pass laws needed for Assembly sittings from May 15 to November 24 and to call a snap election if the Secretary of State so decides.

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