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They're failing the test of improving leadership

By Noel McAdam

It was all meant to so different. Northern Ireland's 11 new super councils which finally come into being next month were designed to usher in a new era of co-operation.

Instead the poppy and Irish branding row at Mid Ulster is but the latest manifestation of concern that councillors are failing the test of improving leadership.

Checks and balances were carefully built in to the underpinning legislation of the amalgamated authorities to make it more difficult for unionist or nationalist-controlled councils to ride rough-shod over respective minorities.

But now, rather than get to grips with their new functions councils are likely to spend more time than was envisaged drawing up separate 'standing orders' for their meetings.

This is because a DUP 'petition of concern' in the Assembly blocked new rules which were to apply to all the new councils.

Furthermore, the failure of the pre-Christmas Stormont talks to find a formula for resolving flags means the 11 new councils can draw up their own policies.

Already the Armagh, Craigavon and Banbridge authority has voted to have year-round displays of the Union flag.

Minister Mark H Durkan said: "This is not a local government system of which people should be nervous."

Yet so far are the new authorities actually creating anxiety?

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