Super-councils plan put in jeopardy due to sectarian squabbling
Sectarian squabbles at several local authorities have put the formation of two new super-councils in the greater Belfast area in doubt.
Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has now threatened to intervene if the in-fighting over who will dominate the new groups doesn't stop.
Because of the disputes, the Belfast Statutory Transitional Committee – which is meant to have completed its work by next May when council elections are due – has not even met yet.
Mr Durkan (right) has threatened to intervene and make the nominations himself after Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh councils have been unable to agree who to nominate for a committee to form new super-councils.
Under the Review of Public Administration, the areas currently governed by Belfast, Lisburn and Castlereagh councils will be divvied up to form a new bigger Belfast City Council and Lisburn/Castlereagh Council.
Tensions are brewing over which areas will go into which council and how that will affect which tradition controls the new councils.
The new Belfast council is expected to have a nationalist majority while the new Lisburn/Castlereagh council is expected to have a sizeable unionist majority.
Because of this, a power struggle is being played out between unionists and nationalists over which councillors are nominated to sit on the Belfast Statutory Transitional Committee.
Mr Durkan – who has responsibility for councils – issued advice which instructed councils to select councillors from the areas which will be affected.
In Lisburn one of the main changes will be the removal of the Dunmurry Cross district electoral area – including Twinbrook and Poleglass – into Belfast. The ward currently comprises of four Sinn Fein, one SDLP, one DUP and one independent republican.
The DUP has nominated current Mayor Margaret Tolerton, who represents that area, which has sparked a row with Sinn Fein and the SDLP.
One of the main areas to go into the new Belfast council is the Castlereagh Central district electoral ward which at the last election returned three DUP members, two Alliance and one UUP.
Here a row was sparked when a DUP and a UUP councillor were nominated.
Belfast City Council currently has not made any nominations to the committee.
The Review of Public Administration will see the biggest shake-up of how local councils are organised in history. The number of councils in Northern Ireland are to reduce from 26 to 11,. Councils have been ordered to establish Voluntary Transitional Committees to oversee the mergers, however Belfast has yet to do so.