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.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.

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