One of the most fiercely contested aspects of the Review of Public Administration (RPA) for the political parties has been the recommendation that the 26 local government councils merge to form 7 Super councils.
Sinn Fein stood alone amongst the political parties in endorsing this recommendation- though not alone in society, as the Business community and, if media vox pops were anything to go by, the wider public- also seemed to endorse this rationalisation of the local government bureaucracy.
The problem facing the new Minister responsible for this area will be the same facing any of the other Ministers: namely, that any proposed changes to the recommendations will require the support of Sinn Fein and the DUP.
The boundary commissioner has completed his review of the electoral wards and has produced recommendations for the final composition of the seven councils. The next stage will involve the drawing up of the new local government constituencies (DEAs) for each of the seven councils.
Moves to halt the work to date will undoubtedly put back the timetable for implementation of the Review and amount to an expensive gamble, given Sinn Fein’s support for the 7 Council model could mean that such a course of action would be a worthless- though costly- exercise.
Like the 11 Plus, there is a time issue at play here: there has been suggestions of a 2008 election to the new Councils, with the new councillors operating in a ‘shadowing’ capacity for a period of months before coming into office proper in April 2009. In any case, given the four year term of office for local councillors, an election would have to take place in Spring/ Summer 2009.
Like so many other issues facing the new Executive, this one will not be resolved until a consensus is reached between Sinn Fein and the DUP about the nature of the new local government framework.
Another case where the threat/ promise of the mutual veto will shortly be compelling the two parties to sharpen their horse-trading skills.