Delays may hit poll date for 11 new councils
Local government chiefs have warned of growing doubts over the date for elections to Northern Ireland's 11 new councils next year.
The councils' umbrella body has rebuked the Stormont Executive for failing to introduce the necessary legislation before the Assembly's summer break.
The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) said the Local Government Bill is already "long overdue".
"The increasing delay in this significant piece of legislation is adding real pressure to the delivery timetable," its latest bulletin said.
"We would therefore urge the Executive, where possible, to expedite the introduction of the Bill before the Assembly."
It comes as some Stormont sources voiced private fears that the May date for the council poll, revealed in the Belfast Telegraph last month, could slip to October.
But new Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has insisted he is confident the legislation will be introduced in the Assembly "as soon as it returns" in September.
The Department of the Environment, which oversees local government, said: "The slight delay in the anticipated timeline for the Bill will not have any effect on the ability to hold elections to the new councils in 2014.
"Regulations to establish the councils in shadow format are being handled separately from the Local Government Bill.
"Further legislation to allow the next set of local government elections to be organised for 2014 will be made at Westminster and this is being taken forward by the Northern Ireland Office."
Even if there are no further delays, the envisaged timetable will not see the Local Government Bill complete all its Assembly stages until next March – less than two months before the elections.
The Bill will include a new ethical standards regime for councils along with community planning powers, as well as underpinning the transfer of staff to the new merged authorities.
Meanwhile, the transition committees appointed to oversee the amalgamation of the present 26 councils have been holding their first meeting as statutory bodies.
Every committee has to appoint a new chief executive for each of the 11 amalgamated councils – hopefully by early in the new year – as well as preparing draft budgets and business plans.
The new councils will be comprised of:
• Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon
• Causeway Coast and Glens – made up of Ballymoney, Coleraine, Limavady and Moyle
• Mid/East Antrim – Ballymena, Larne and Newtownabbey
• Mid Ulster – Dungannon, Cookstown and Magherafelt
• Newry, Mourne and Down
• North Down/Ards