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Anger at Sinn Fein call for Belfast City Council to fund parties to tune of £175k

By John Porter

A proposal for Belfast City Council to give political parties £175,000 each to allow them to employ Stormont-like special advisers has started a war of words with those representatives opposed branding the measure "unjustifiable".

Sinn Fein, which is thought to be behind the proposal, said the money was needed to support party groups with the extra powers they will be responsible for when the new super councils'take control in May.

The republican party said the money would allow for quicker decision-making by the council.

The Ulster Unionists argued the proposal was "unjustifiable" and if funds were available they should go to providing the services the public expects.

Eleven new super councils with extra powers will replace the existing 26 authorities later this year.

Sinn Fein councillor Deirdre Hargey said: "We are entering into new arrangements on Belfast City Council following the biggest shake-up of local government for 40 years.

"This will mean additional powers for councillors, including planning, with hundreds of applications expected each month.

"People want to see leadership and consensus politics from their councillors.

"If we can provide support for councillors it will lead to quicker and effective decision-making from council."

She added: "The suggested amount of £175,000 represents 0.12% of the council's budget. It would come at no extra cost to the ratepayers.

"We have been driving a programme which has delivered £20 million in efficiency savings.

"Over the last four years we have operated a £150m investment programme, which has brought huge benefits to the city.

"Sinn Fein remains open to further discussions on how the council proposes to roll out this option."

UUP councillor David Browne said the council faced bringing itself into disrepute if it approved the plan.

He said: "The Ulster Unionist members on Belfast City Council are totally opposed to this proposal.

"There is no justification for it whatsoever and were it to proceed, ratepayers all across the city would be understandably disgusted at a significant amount of money being used solely for party political purposes."

He added: "This £175,000 can either be spent on supplementing party coffers or it can go towards key city services.

"If other parties believe this funding is required, which will cost up to £700,000 over the length of the current term, it is up to them to tell the ratepayers what future services they believe should be reduced to pay for it."

Stormont has 19 special advisers - or Spads - who are each paid around £90,000 a year.

The appointment of Mary McArdle - convicted for her role in an IRA killing - led to MLAs voting in favour of barring those found guilty of serious offences from taking up the positions.

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