Edwin Poots’ demand for local government to fund the full costs of the town halls shake-up has been rejected by his own council, Lisburn.
Minister Poots was not present for the special meeting of the city council from which he is due to stand down as part of his party’s aim to end double-jobbing.
But councillors accepted a recommendation from chief executive Norman Davidson that it would be “unwise” to commit itself to funding the upfront implementation costs until Mr Poots' department has clarified a number of issues, including how rates in the new authority areas will converge.
Only half of the council's 30 members attended the special meeting at which Mr Poots’ former special adviser, DUP councillor Paul Givan, said he did not believe the timescale now allowed for elections to the new councils next year.
Mr Givan, who is to replace Jeffrey Donaldson in the Assembly in a few weeks, said the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) had rejected the minister's plans but failed to detail how it proposed to find guaranteed savings.
Sinn Fein councillor Paul Butler said Mr Poots was presiding over “total chaos” in local government and his demand for councils to respond within a week was completely unrealistic.
Independent councillor Seamus Close asked: “To ask councils to reply in a week to say they will pay £118m in unfair, unjust, unrealistic and totally off the radar.”
Ulster Unionist Ivan Davis said: “It has got to the stage where politicians are really a laughing stock because people do not see things moving forward. But I would have to say that NILGA has got itself in a pickle as well by how they have handled things.”
The council with which Lisburn is to amalgamate — Castlereagh — also held a special meeting and voted not to commit itself to finding the initial costs required by the minister.