Belfast Telegraph

MLAs stuck over 'good relations' definition

BY Noel McAdam

A legal duty on Northern Ireland's new 'super councils' to promote shared space in their areas could backfire, the Assembly has been warned.

On the second day of debate on legislation underpinning the 11 new authorities which are to be elected in May, Stormont parties pledged to attempt to work on a viable definition of "good relations".

Environment Minister Mark H Durkan, who is overseeing the merger from the current 26 councils, quipped: "It seems that co-operation has broken out."

The remark came after an Alliance amendment to the Bill which gives town halls control over mechanisms to promote shared public space, including planning and regeneration.

Anna Lo, chair of the Stormont committee monitoring the upheaval, said: "Councils would therefore be duty-bound to promote shared use of public space. All public space in Northern Ireland should be open and shared."

Challenged by the DUP's Lord Morrow to be more specific, the Alliance MLA added: "I love this country, but many things are wrong here in Northern Ireland. Good relations is one of them.

"The lack of respect for each other and the hostility between neighbouring districts... 90% of our public housing is for one side or the other."

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott argued, however, there were many examples of people working together.

Ms Lo said she was aware of good community work. But she said that MLAs "need to put a marker down to say that we support good relations and equality".

The DUP's Peter Weir suggested a further explanation of "good relations" could be added at the Bill's next Assembly appearance.

Former Executive minister Alex Attwood argued: "We could legislate today on good relations, which is a very important principle that we should all live up to, but not legislate by defining it today. That is bad law."

And Sinn Fein's Barry McElduff added: "You do not end up with good legislation if it is poorly worded and has unintended consequences."

NI21 leader Basil McCrea asked the SDLP if it intended to bring a further amendment to define "good relations" at the next stage, and Colum Eastwood confirmed his party planned to do so.

It also emerged that councillors in Northern Ireland are set for a £4,000-plus pay rise.

The members elected to the 11 new super councils will be paid more to reflect their greater responsibilities, Mr Durkan explained. Pay will rise to £14,200 per year from the current £9,835 .

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