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Decision on council cuts further delayed

By Noel McAdam

A decision on reducing Northern Ireland's 26 councils has been further delayed.

Environment Minister Arlene Foster yesterday cited the "volume of work" facing the Executive for the latest postponement.

In a written response to her DUP colleague Peter Weir, the minister said decisions would not now be announced until early in the New Year.

The Executive is reviewing the decisions of Direct Rule ministers relating to local government under the Review of Public Administration (RPA).

Mr Weir said yesterday that ministers were attempting to "correct the mistakes" of Direct Rule and that it was important to take time " to get this right".

Mrs Foster, who initiated a review of the local government section of the RPA in July, had hoped to complete the review within 2007, but "the volume of work currently being undertaken by the Executive has created a short delay".

She added: "It is expected that the Executive should be in a position to announce its decisions to the Assembly and the public in January 2008."

Her party's deputy leader has backed more powers for councils in the future.

Finance Minister Peter Robinson said: "I believe that whatever else is proposed in the RPA, councils deserve to be given the opportunity to carry greater responsibility."

The further delay to January extends the life of the current councils to 2011, cancelling the local government elections due in 2009.

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