Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Councils can bridge democratic deficit

Editor's Viewpoint

The Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA), which represents the 11 councils, has made an important and timely intervention in the devolution debate by calling for greater powers for local authorities in the continuing absence of a functioning Assembly and Executive at Stormont.

NILGA has urged Theresa May's Government to review the roles of the councils, and to hand greater decision-making to them to address what it tactfully calls the "democratic deficit" caused by the implosion of power-sharing some two years ago.

NILGA's proposed reforms include the establishment of an independent panel to consider devolution funded at a level below the Executive, for example councils and communities, and a Brexit Support Fund similar to the £60m scheme offered to local authorities in Britain.

NILGA has performed a useful service by refusing to sit idly by and bemoan the lack of a local administration, but rather put forward practical and commonsense suggestions to deal with Brexit and other day-to-day issues.

The sad truth is that, apart from the deep human impetus to run our own affairs as much as possible, the reality of self-government has never seemed so distant as today, and perhaps more so than at any time since that winter day in March 1972 when the then Tory Prime Minister prorogued the old Stormont Parliament.

The continuing inability of parties to work together at even the most basic level has been compounded by the evidence-gathering sessions at the RHI Inquiry, which has yet to report.

This leaves public confidence in the political classes at an all-time low. By common consent, the next attempt to breathe life back into the devolved institutions, if it ever comes, must await the outcome of the Brexit process.

Realistically, if the power-sharing institutions are revived, this will take place against a political backdrop that has radically changed for the worse since Martin McGuinness collapsed the Executive on January 9, 2017.

Perhaps one way to restore some public confidence in the political process here is to transfer a set of powers, which have yet to be defined, to the 11 local councils, which remain untainted by the deadlock at Stormont.

Other suggestions, such as a revived Civic Forum, also merit consideration.

It would be hard to imagine that either could do any worse.

Belfast Telegraph

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