Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland councils ready to step in to Stormont power vacuum

By Noel McAdam

Extra powers for councils could be on the cards if the Stormont parties fail to reach a deal to restore devolution.

The Government will come under pressure to consider passing additional responsibilities to the relatively new 11 super councils if the Assembly is mothballed indefinitely, it has emerged.

The councils’ umbrella body has already met Secretary of State James Brokenshire who has now agreed to further discussions.

The plan would form an alternative to full-blown Direct Rule, with local government subsuming some of the responsibilities of the regional departments.

Derek McCallan, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), said it was one of several options. 

“We are in full support of a devolved administration, we do not want to take away from that, but we are in a situation of drifting at the moment. We have a democratic deficit,” he said.

“If there isn’t a budget and this looming uncertainty continues, then give the councils the power and the resources to do the job.”

The so-called ‘partnership panel’, where council chiefs met Executive ministers, is in abeyance with Stormont’s collapse.

A letter from NILGA’s senior team to Mr Brokenshire said: “(Our) all-party, all-council political leadership is ready, able and willing to do everything it can to ensure that you are aware of the cohesion, efficiency and innovation of local government here in Northern Ireland.” The Secretary of State was forced to pull out of a meeting pencilled in for the day former Deputy First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness, stepped down, but NILGA chiefs said they were willing to travel to London to address the growing power gap.

An initial meeting then took place, at Mr Brokenshire’s invite, and more are planned. 

NILGA president Sean McPeake said: “Quite clearly the situation in the NI Assembly will be volatile for some time. The 11 councils in the north — collectively, sub-regionally and locally — are in situ to deliver economic growth, co-ordinate and deliver public services.

“This is what they have been doing, seamlessly, since 1972 and we want to be able to help plan local economies and regenerate our areas.”

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