Belfast Telegraph

After years of reforms and talks, voters are left apathetic

By Noel McAdam

The new local authorities will take some years to bed in. But it was the same when the McCrory reforms of the early 1970s formed the current 26 councils, now being amalgamated into 11.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a survey by the DoE revealed that 18-25-year-olds are almost wholly unaware of the looming changes.

And the department admitted many older people have also yet to grasp how the reforms are relevant to them, even though the larger councils will have significant new powers, including planning and local regeneration.

The Assembly's two-day debate, which will finally consolidate political agreement on the issue, has been a long time coming. It is now well over a decade since the debate on reform began.

The status quo had been challenged by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which established the devolved adminstration. This necessitated an examination of the share-out of powers between regional government and councils, as well as the plethora of quangos.

It was in 2001 that then First Minister David Trimble and Environment Minister Sam Foster signalled an overhaul of how public services in Northern Ireland would be organised.

What became known as the Review of Public Administration (RPA) did not formally begin until June 2002 – but the initial proposals were effectively mothballed when the Assembly collapsed.

Later, Secretary of State Peter Hain used the threat of a seven-strong 'super council' model as a pressure point on the political parties which resulted in the St Andrews Agreement and the resumption of devolution.

By May 2006 legislation for a seven-council model and the remit of the Local Government Boundaries Commissioner had completed all Parliamentary stages.

With devolution restored, the two main parties – the DUP and Sinn Fein – finally settled on the current division into 11 councils.

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