Arlene Foster’s councils announcement

A follow up to my previous blog about Arlene Foster’s decisions on councils. Her statement to the assembly on Monday is here. It is fairly unexciting stuff but a few parts are quite interesting. This bit:
“statutory safeguards to ensure fair and transparent decision-making and to protect the rights of minority groups. Proportionality will be the touchstone of all that we are doing on equality, and we look forward to presenting that. Between now and 2011, we intend to run some pilot schemes on the different ways in which that can happen, with a view to introducing statutory safeguards for all councils in 2011.”

Did produce the following amusing exchange:

Peter Weir: Can the Minister confirm whether there is a commitment to any particular governance model, particularly d’Hondt or any form of mandatory coalition?
Mr Kennedy: Jim Allister wants to know that.
Mrs Foster: I should have thought that Danny would probably provide Mr Allister with an answer; he is good at that.
The statutory safeguards are for everybody in Northern Ireland. I am clear about that, and everybody in the House should be clear about that. Regardless of where one lives, it is right that everyone should have equality of opportunity and access.

Mrs. Foster has not outlined exactly what the above means and whether or not it means power sharing by mandatory coalition. A pilot scheme may be a reasonable idea but does that mean that different councils may have different schemes? Is this going to end up being d’Hondt or something different?

Another couple of interesting issues on the statement are the suggestion of a severance scheme for councillors:

“I will introduce a severance scheme in order to recognise the contribution of long-standing councillors who opt not to stand for re-election and to facilitate the modernisation and renewal of local government. The development of the detail of the scheme will be informed by the report and recommendations of the councillors’ remuneration working group, which reported in June 2006.”

Also the suggestion of ending the dual mandate of councillors who are also MLAs or MPs:

“In addition, I intend to work with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office in order to introduce legislative proposals to end the dual mandate of those councillors who are also Members of the Assembly and/or Parliament.”

On the same topic of ending the dual mandate she also proposes:

“I will also work with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to introduce transitional legislative provisions to provide for any vacancies in local government that result from the ending of the dual mandate to be filled on the basis of co-option rather than by-election.”

So the dual mandate between Stormont or Westminister and councils may be ended; presumably even before any new council elections, otherwise no need for co opting to avoid by elections. Council by elections as we know are an extremely unpopular concept in DUP thinking at the moment.

  • Observer

    The sooner dual mandate ends the better. The councillors will be crying into their soup, or should that be gravy, when they lose the average of £14,000 or so annual allowances and chairmanship perks. Still I am sure that they will come up with even more creative ways of maintaining their monthly increasing bank balances. The real tears will come when the number of MLA’s is reduced by Peter and some of the “making up the numbers boys and girls” lose their seats and have to return to the real world and maybe even have to sign on for benefits. They should know all the moves by now to maximise what they can claim in benefits! Can’t wait!!

  • Observer

    If anyone is thinking of starting a little high street business hang back for a while as quite a few premises being used for advice centres might become available at a knock down rent. You can be sure that the rent will be a lot less ran these premises are currently attracting.

  • Observer

    If anyone is thinking of starting a little high street business hang back for a while as quite a few premises being used for advice centres might become available at a knock down rent. You can be sure that the rent will be a lot less than these premises are currently attracting.

  • BonarLaw

    Observer

    108 is obscene but what level of regional representation does NI need? Four MLAs per Westminster constituency gives 72 which seems about right for an Assembly with so little to do that we get a stream of frankly crap adjournment debates to fill the gaps in plenary sessions.

    But let’s not just cut MLAs. The Executive (and therefore the committees) needs to be scaled down if just to give some coherence to what passes as government. Six departments maximum regardless of when/ if P&J;gets devolved?

    And as for dual mandates- MLAs should be barred from councils, Parliament, Europe and any other legislature, foreign or domestic.

  • willowfield

    What about the dual mandate of MLAs and MPs?

  • Nestor Makhno

    I agree about removing the dual mandate for councillors and MLAs.

    Too much conflict of interest – particular in Belfast – and some sort of separation would be healthy for local democracy. Councillors should, first and foremost, be influenced by their local voters’ priorities.

    If you have an MLA’s salary to fall back on then you can blithely ignore local concerns without too much worry. (For example, say the Executive wants to stick an airport in your ward. If you’re solely a councillor then you’re sure as hell gonna kick up a storm about it…!)

  • Ian

    “statutory safeguards to ensure fair and transparent decision-making and to protect the rights of minority groups”

    Some unionists seem to incensed by this suggestion, which on the face of it would equally benefit unionist councillors in majority nationalist boroughs.

    But on the whole nationalists already have a greater tendency to share power on a voluntary basis in areas where they hold a majority.

    As a result, in the zero-sum mindset of unionists like Allister, statutory power-sharing measures are [i]perceived[/i] to be of greater benefit to nationalists.

  • FYI

    Ian

    You are correct. Allister clearly doesn’t want protections for the Unionists in the West.

  • Ian

    “the dual mandate between Stormont or Westminister and councils may be ended; presumably even before any new council elections, otherwise no need for co opting to avoid by elections.”

    The co-opting is needed because the next Council elections are proposed for the same day as the next Assembly elections. If the co-opting wasn’t allowed, then prospective candidates would have to decide which election to stand in.

    So don’t get your hopes up that the ending of dual mandates will happen sooner than 2011.

    As far MLA/MP dual mandate, see here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markdevenport/2008/04/may_2011.html

  • Ian

    FYI,

    History repeating itself? Carson abandoned Unionists in the far west (Donegal) nearly a century ago. Jeffrey Donaldson defended this not so long ago as essential “to protect the Union”.

    Unionists West of the Bann can expect similar treatment in the foreseeable future, in order “to protect the Union”.

  • Ian

    (Exact quote might have been “to secure the Union”.)

  • willowfield

    The co-opting is needed because the next Council elections are proposed for the same day as the next Assembly elections.

    Are you sure? The next councils elections are due next year – surely there isn’t an Assembly election due until 2012 (five years from the January 2007 election)?

  • fair_deal

    Ian

    “Unionists West of the Bann can expect similar treatment in the foreseeable future”

    Nope it’s for their sake such changes are being made (from a unionist perspective).

    Paul Bew or is it Henry Patterson argues strongly that it was fearing for Border Unionism that hamstrung Stormont in its approach to reforms. This need no longer be the case as they would be beneficiaries.

  • ian

    Willowfield,

    Check the Developort link in post 9 above.

    Assembly terms last for four years, except the first elected in 1998 which was meant to be five years to allow the GFA institutions to bed in. I guess they’ll make the current term 4 years and 4 months to bring the elections back to May.

    Councils elections should have been next year but were postponed until 2011 in order to allow the 11 council reorganisation to take place.

  • willowfield

    Thanks for that, Ian. I didn’t know they’d put the council elections back.

  • ian

    Fair Deal,

    I’m talking about further down the line, if and when a 50%+1 scenario looks likely. I would expect eastern unionist solidarity with their kin west of the Bann to be about as steadfast as that displayed in 1920 to the other 3 Ulster County unionists.

  • Ian

    (I realise I’m in danger of setting off Greenflag with his ‘single transferable post’ about Repartition!)

  • interested

    Ian
    If there was to be a 50+1 scenario (which there isn’t much evidence to support in the near future) then eastern unionism might abandon the west regardless of whatever council structures there were.

    If your argument is about what might happen in that hypothetical situation then the council boundaries are actually utterly meaningless.

  • IJP

    A genuine question to those moaning about “dual mandates”: do you accept the democratically expressed will of the people?

    Because they are the ones who delivered the dual mandates. They didn’t have to.

  • Realist

    IJP

    I admire your confidence in the electorate to be able to make a judgement regarding dual mandate and putting the blame on them for this situation. I would argue that the parties must accept responsibility for dual mandate. As I am sure you would accept, if the parties put up a donkey, and quite often do, and kit it out in the team colours it will in all probability get elected. I’m not sure if that says more about the electorates loyalty or their gulliblity. The parties, at a stroke, could do something about this totally unacceptable scam.

  • IJP

    Realist

    Well, you accept the implication behind my comments that the issue of dual mandates is not for legislation, but for the people to take responsibility for.

    Of course, in 2001, Alliance adopted the stance you advocate.

    However, I’m not convinced the electorate should be let off that responsibility so lightly – democracy requires citizens to take responsibility for their choices.

    People above and elsewhere have called for an end to dual mandates. Then they should reflect, the next time they head into a polling station, that they have it in their immediate power to end them.

  • realist

    IJP

    I still think that it does need to be covered by legislation. Regarding the responsibility of the public in relation to this issue over 40% of them make a decision to stay at home on polling day. Now there may be various reasons for this but I firmly believe that a large number of people are disgusted by all that they read about politicians milking the public purse of their taxes. These people give a verdict on issues like dual mandate and employing relatives etc etc, and employing unemployable party colleagues is just as unacceptable, when they choose not to vote. A huge proportion of the people who do vote simply don’t care about things like dual mandate and will go out and vote like mummy and daddy did. However this indifference should not be seen as a vote of confidence in either the system or things like dual mandate. Just give us the legislation and end it! Alliance might have avoided creating dual mandate opportunities although their candidates do well to get elected to one post never mind two so it doesn’t really stack up as a great moral sacrifice. Their hands are no cleaner than many other hands in relation to other less than moral abuses of the public purse.

  • Ian

    Interested:

    “If there was to be a 50+1 scenario (which there isn’t much evidence to support in the near future) then eastern unionism might abandon the west regardless of whatever council structures there were.

    If your argument is about what might happen in that hypothetical situation then the council boundaries are actually utterly meaningless.”

    Except that the current attitudes by some Unionist politicos (such as Jim Allister) is an [i]indication[/i] of where their loyalties might lie in that future scenario.

    i.e. If they’re [b]more[/b] concerned with preventing nationalists from power-sharing in local councils east of the Bann, than they are about ensuring similar benefits for Unionists West of the Bann, then western Unionists (like Turgon and his missus) might like to reflect upon that.