Minister urges an end to bitter sectarian rows
Northern Ireland's local government minister has told councils to embrace the "new order of politics" and not become embroiled in petty sectarian squabbles.
Environment Minister Alex Attwood, who oversees the delivery of local government, issued the warning amid claims that relations between elected members on councils like Limavady and Belfast City had significantly deteriorated.
Mr Attwood, who revealed that the Review of Public Administration to slash the number of local authorities from 26 to 11 was an "urgent work in progress", also said he had been "disappointed" by unionist carve-ups in places like Castlereagh and Craigavon following last month's election.
"I get disappointed when anybody clings to the past," the minister told the Belfast Telegraph. "We need a new order of politics. That needs to prevail and deepen in all political institutions in the North. When people rely upon majorities, where parties try to do local deals to frustrate the popular wish, I do not agree with that."
Last week the Sinn Fein mayor of Limavady, republican ex-prisoner Sean McGlinchey, said relations were so dire that the borough would be better off if his council was shut down and unelected officials given responsibility for the area. A council meeting in the Co Londonderry town ended in uproar when a TUV councillor brought a Union flag into the chamber.
"We are supposed to be representing people on issues and that is not happening," claimed Mr McGlinchey.
Those views have been echoed by veteran Ulster Unionist Jim Rodgers who said that a row over the removal of Royal portraits and an upcoming storm over flags could stop Belfast City Council from delivering for ratepayers.
The minister said, if necessary, he would be prepared to step in and would "enhance" the current code of conduct for councillors.
"While I do not have any time for political intolerance I do have understanding for those that find some things difficult to accept," he said. "Local and central political leaders need to have the needs of victims more central in what they do and how they conduct themselves.
"I appreciate that things are difficult in Limavady and there are other councils in the North of Ireland where the councils do not live with the new order of politics and spirit of partnership. But, I do not agree that the answer to a political problem is to suspend a democratic process, as the mayor of Limavady says. That's part of the politics of the past and that's not the best way forward here.
"There have been problems in some local councils but I do not agree with the assessment that there has been a breakdown in relationships. Compared to 10, 20 or 30 years ago the situation has quite substantially changed across the board. As we move forward there will be difficulties and turbulence, but it is in the context of moving positively and for the best."