Belfast Telegraph

Minister asks councillors to rethink Alliance Party 'snub'

By Ruaidhri McCarney

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has written to Castlereagh Borough Council asking it to review its nominations to a committee handling the transfer of some areas into an enlarged Belfast council.

The request comes after unionist councillors for the area ignored guidance from the previous Environment Minister, Alex Attwood, to select a DUP member and an Alliance member, instead opting to install a member each from the DUP and UUP.

In the letter Mr Durkan states: "The democratic process should be adhered to and nominations allocated on the basis of proportionality."

The members form one of the Statutory Transition Committees which have been formed across Northern Ireland to oversee the reduction from 26 councils to just 11.

The change will see Belfast take in some parts of Lisburn and Castlereagh, resulting in both councils being asked to appoint two representatives to join the new Belfast Transition Committee.

Alliance Councillor for Castlereagh Central, Michael Long said: "Alliance has made it clear unionists in Castlereagh will not be allowed to simply ignore democracy to suit their own agenda.

"Despite believing they can control everything without any questions, the voters must be respected and the correct protocol followed for the nominations to the Belfast Statutory Transition Committee.

"On direct orders from Minister Durkan, Castlereagh council must now produce a report detailing its decision with regards to the nominations to Belfast Statutory Transition Committee. Not only this, but the minister has also urged the nominations of the DUP and UUP councillors be reviewed.

"RPA (Review of Public Administration) will mean big changes for how all local governments operate. We cannot allow tribal politics to form part of this system. From the start Castlereagh Council should have selected a DUP and Alliance nominee as the previous minister, Alex Attwood, had recommended. If we fail to see a change of heart from unionist councillors, I hope the minister will intervene but hopefully sense will prevail when the position is reviewed at the council this week."

A DUP spokesman had previously said when the Alliance Party first brought forward the challenge that the guidance was "not legally binding".

"Legal advice was sought in relation to these appointments by at least one of the councils in question which supported the view taken by members of the council," the spokesman added.

An Ulster Unionist spokesperson said: "Whilst the Alliance Party may disagree with the democratic decision of Lisburn and Castlereagh councils, this is the same party who acted tactlessly in their decision to remove the union flag from Belfast City Hall.

"After the last Assembly election the Ulster Unionist Party returned 16 Assembly members and the SDLP 14. Both parties subsequently took up one place on the Executive.

"The Alliance Party, however, returned only eight Assembly members, yet shamelessly took two places on the Executive.

"Maybe they should take a look closer to home before coming out with such hypocritical statements."

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