Belfast Telegraph

Councils 'should be handed extra powers while Stormont is suspended'

The organisation which represents local government in Northern Ireland has called for extra powers to be granted to councils while Stormont is suspended.

In response to the UK Government's position papers on Brexit, NILGA (Northern Ireland Local Government Association) have warned of an increasing democratic deficit in the region.

NILGA chief executive Derek McCallan said stronger assurances are needed from Theresa May's government on what the reality of Brexit will look like for local people and businesses.

He warned that without a functioning Assembly at Stormont the region is in a "vulnerable position".

"The increasing disconnect between what is going on in London and the delivery of services on the ground here must be halted and we cannot have a shift back to centralist policies and decision making. Councils can be the antidote to this," said Mr McCallan.

"We are calling for councils to be given real powers and real resources as part of solving this widening democratic deficit - before we are literally disempowered and made uncompetitive as an economic region.

"NILGA has asserted for some time that you can't run an economy in a political bubble," he added.

Mr McCallan warned that there is a backlog of important policies and legislation affecting how councils and others provide the public with services.

"Surely it would be a mature and rational thing to sit down with local councils and push through whatever legislation or policy is needed to move ahead, on matters like regeneration, a new Code of Conduct, resources for Emergency Planning. Councils simply want to be a substantial part of the solutions needed right now," he said.

The region's power-sharing government collapsed in January when the late Martin McGuinness, of Sinn Fein, resigned in protest over the Democratic Unionist Party's handling of an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme.

His party had demanded that DUP leader Arlene Foster step aside temporarily to allow an investigation into the scheme she set up, but Mrs Foster refused.

The two parties have remained deadlocked over a number of issues including an Irish language Act, same-sex marriage, a Bill of Rights and measures to deal with the legacy of Northern Ireland's Troubles.

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