Councils must allay carve-up fears
How the new super councils go about their initial business over the next couple of days will be carefully scrutinised. The 11 local authorities don't take up power until 10 months from now, but they will go through various procedural activities such as appointing committees and their chairs and deputy chairs. Given the fact that 10 of the councils are either unionist or nationalist-controlled, the concern is how the parties in control will exercise their power.
The example from Stormont where the DUP and Sinn Fein are the dominant partners in government is not encouraging. Both are not shy at exercising their veto if a measure does not meet with their approval and that has led to a glacially slow level of legislative reform and quite often stalemate on contentious issues. The minority parties in the Assembly often feel that their wishes are secondary to those of the real power brokers.
More of the old councils were hung which meant that councillors had to cut deals across the sectarian divide and this left less room for the introduction of measures which did not benefit all the ratepayers. Will the dominant parties in the new councils – only Belfast remains deadlocked with Alliance holding the balance of power – show the same generosity of spirit when there is no compulsion on them to do so?
On the other hand this is a great opportunity for councillors. When they assume all their powers next year, they will be able to provide a greater range of services and galvanise democracy at grassroots level. They will be able to address local concerns in a way that Assembly members cannot, but, most of all, they have the chance to begin to break down the sectarian divide still sadly evident in this society. If councillors of all shades work on providing services for their entire electorate, then perhaps we could begin to build a shared future from the bottom up, since the Assembly has been a poor example of co-operation in recent times.