Is Gerry Mander Alive and Well?

As some of you may know I am not a big fan of the proposals for the new Super Councils, previously I have posted on the financial white elephant  , trying to explain (not very successfully it seems) that the proposals will COST us money for the foreseeable future.  At the end I promised to give some of the social implications, thankfully others in the form of our MLAs have put it much better than myself.

The recent Assembly Debate on the issue was a rare example of a proper structured discussion, although the outcome went in favour of the proposals ( DUP, AP & SF for, UUP & SDLP against ) most commentators believe the case for looking again at the proposals was well made.  I have singled out one contributor from the Belfast perspective, although the proposals are equally crazy elsewhere, enough of my waffle, here are the words of Micheal Copeland UUP MLA for East Belfast.

“I was born into a house called Tigh Deargh — “red house on the hill” in the Scottish Gallic language — at a place called Carnamuck on the Ballygowan Road in Castlereagh. My address, for all my life, was Lead Hill, Castlereagh, 50 yards from the city boundary of Belfast. That is the local identity that I had for my rates and the council that I eventually served and continue to serve on — local. My grandmother was slightly stranger. She referred to “going to Belfast”. Despite the fact that, for 91 of her 110 years, she lived on the Beersbridge Road in Belfast, she remembered and considered Ballymacarrett as Ballymacarrett and Belfast as Belfast. She was firmly of the view that at least three of the major world industries that were claimed by the city of Belfast were actually resident in Ballymacarrett. [Laughter.]

Local government has suddenly become a good deal less local, and there have been curious constructions on its fringes. The council area that I represent — Castlereagh Central DEA — is pretty much to go lock, stock and barrel into the city of Belfast. That is not surprising, since all the roads go to Belfast; all the buses go to Belfast; the taxi companies go to Belfast; and the postcodes are Belfast. What is slightly more curious is the fact that to our left is Lisburn and to our right is Lisburn. To empty the bins in one part of the new Lisburn construction, they will have to go through the bit that is now in Belfast.

No matter what anyone says, I know that there may well be mathematically calculated reasons to establish a rates income. I know that there may be very sensible reasons in the political considerations of drawing lines on maps, and I have heard the term gerrymandering used frequently. I think that the first time that I heard that expression was in a James Young sketch, in which a BBC English-sounding reporter was interviewing people in the city of Belfast and asking them their opinion on the political situation. He got the usual Belfast answer from a man in a duncher, with a scarf round his neck and a cigarette butt behind his ear. When he was asked what he thought of gerrymandering, he said that he didn’t know Gerry Mandering, but he knew Gerry Fitt — and Fitt for Ulster! It was really a most humorous interchange.

The difficulty is that Dundonald, which is a small village on the outskirts of the city of Belfast that was swamped by the growth of Belfast, is now, suddenly, to be linked, for whatever reason, with the borough and city of Lisburn. At the time, I was a councillor without any researchers, pollsters or scientific method of establishing whether the people of Dundonald felt a deep, historic and significant linkage with Lisburn, so I did some private research. I got a phonebook and I phoned every taxi company that operated in the greater Dundonald area. I asked them to tell me the last time that anyone had booked a taxi to go to Lisburn. They laughed at me. They could not remember; it did not happen.

I then wandered round Moat Park, Ballybeen, Davarr, the left hand side of the road, and Coronation Park. I talked to young people. I found Glen men and I found Blue men, but nowhere could I find anyone who had any interest in or knowledge of — indeed, some had never even heard of — Lisburn Distillery. [Laughter.] So, we do have an attack on our sense of identity.

I do not want to go into the geopolitics of it. I know that in Israel, for many years, they had a saying, “Next year in Jerusalem”, because they felt that their capital city was in the hands of others. That would be to take a negative approach to this.

As a councillor, I know that many councillors of all parties have and express privately about what they really think of this place, with its “Fancy salaries, high expenses, ministerial cars and government Departments”. They see this as a legislative Assembly that takes a set amount of money from the Westminster Exchequer and bean-counts and divides it, according to the will of those in the Chamber.

Councillors see themselves as having something that they refer to, quite properly in many ways, as a tax-raising power. They see us — I was going to say “youse” there, but I cannot hide behind that term — as looking at them, with their tax-raising power called “the rates”, and they fear that we shall transfer function without ultimate finance from this place to them, and that the responsibility for raising the finance to discharge those functions will reside with them. I have to say that if we think that they will go to the electorate, having raised the rates to cover the cost of functions transferred from this place on their behalf to allow them to assume responsibility for it, I think that within the closed and cosseted rooms of political parties, there may well be some serious conversations.

It is important to remember that although rambunctious political debate and the possession and putting forward of opinions goes with the territory, the truth is that 3,500 people gave their lives for us to sit in here to take matters seriously, and their children and loved ones who remain are entitled to a dignified explanation of why we are forced to do what we do.

For the life of me, I know that Dundonald, Ballybeen and those estates, or the Newtownards Road, lifted from where their families had lived for generations in streets without gardens and, in some cases, without toilets and dumped in the middle of the country with gardens — but no shops, pubs or bookies and none of the fabric of the thread of life that goes to make up a city. The Newtownards Road and Ballybeen are the same place; they are just separated by a ribbon of tarmac. I dare say that the same thing applies to those who were evacuated from the Shankill to Rathcoole and other places. Their hearts, homes and grannies are in those places from which they were moved. We need to bear in mind that the most important word in local government is “local” and ensure that we enshrine that in everything that we do.

A heavy responsibility falls on you, Minister. You are the driver of a bus in many ways, but, unfortunately, the passengers are dictating where the bus goes on this particular issue. You may take it in a certain direction for a certain time, but it will become apparent to them at some stage that they are not going where they want to. At that stage, you must take your own decision.

As I say, the most important word in local government is “local”, and many of us who have a history or grounding in local government know what it delivers. It delivered democracy at a time when places like this did not exist and could not deliver. Although they were not always models of democracy, they were, in very many cases, superb methods of delivery of a reasonable service at a reasonable price. People need to bear in mind the importance of the word “local” in all of this. Thank you, sir.”

  • antamadan

    Not sure where the ‘on the hill’ came from, but ‘Tígh Dhearg’ sic would be Red houst in Irish Gaelic too.

  • The Republic is currently merging its (already larger) councils to create even larger areas than any considered for NI: The merged Limerick, Tipp and Galway councils would have a population of over 150k each, and Waterford would be just over 100k. The rationale is the same – small councils just can’t operate efficiently.

    If councils in NI are to be merged, surely it would make sense to have them of sufficient size that real efficiencies can be made? The boundaries of the original 7-council plan left a lot to be desired, but at least it represented real change. The councils would also have had expanded powers, making elections to them meaningful. The problems of legitimacy could be addressed by basing local government on six counties plus Belfast, which would also roughly match the proposed arrangement of primary care hospitals.

    Even though the current proposals will not result in savings, they could be justified if they represented real devolution of power to the local level. But this now won’t happen either.

    So as DR says, what’s the point?

  • JR


    There is no fada on the i in Scots Gaeillic or Irish, Also Teach being a masculine word there it is dearg not dhearg. Tigh is used in Munster but here and in Scotland it is the Dative case for House, a historic tense rarely used in Irish but still common in Scots Gaeilic. so I think it should only be used saying ‘From the house’ ‘at the house’ ‘on the house’ etc. The Irish and Scots Gaeillic for red house is exactly the same. Teach dearg.

    I have however noticed and it is a bugbearer of mine, on many signs especially in North Antrim place names that are obviously Irish being atributed to Scots Gaeilic. The Tourist information in Port Bradden being one.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “If councils in NI are to be merged, surely it would make sense to have them of sufficient size that real efficiencies can be made?”

    Great idea. Why not just have one? It would give the MLA’s something to do!

  • The south’s councils are run in a notoriously undemocratic fashion, with real power in the hands of the managers and not the elected politicians.The fact that the government down there wants to further strangle democracy by reducing the number of seats – and therefore the chances of people from outside the big parties – does not mean that we ought to be looking to them for inspiration. Quite the opposite.

  • “The south’s councils are run in a notoriously undemocratic fashion, with real power in the hands of the managers and not the elected politicians.”

    Just as well nothing like that happens in Northern Ireland!

  • Barnshee

    So tell me again

    The numbers of councils will be reduced and aggregated

    Chief executive posts will be reduced by 40% ?

    “Directors ” of who knows what or SFA will also be reduced by 40%?

    As service delivery management is consolidated 40% of buildings can be down sized (or disposed of altogether)

    Centralisationof procurement HR and payroll (where not already centralised) will produce cost reduction.

    The consolidation process has been in the air for years. Surely councils examined the implications of the change and for years have operated strategies to allow a seemless transition.

    Tell me again that the merging of councils has not provided an opportunity for massive cost reduction.. Whether the bufoons that infest local government have had the foersight and ability to take the opportunity may be another issue.

  • Drumlins Rock

    TT, in essence thats what we have, our current councils are quite toothless, and if anything the new councils will have even less powers, the tiny proportion of the executive budget they take up bears record to that, with the possibilities of savings miniscule in the larger picture. Essentially their main role is administering government at a local level, but as Michael points out these new proposals aren’t very local and eventually other local groups will try to fill the void.

    AG, Fermanagh has 65k, Down & Antrim 5 or 6 times that, and are you proposing to split Newry & Lisburn on the county lines? 15 councils would be simple to implement, a third stay as they are or enlarged, a third merged and a third divide up, a quick plan I did had them quite close to the county boundaries.

    JR, sure the Scots were Irish are that stage! The two languages are essentially one, although it is said the native tongue of the Glens is closer Skey than Kerry.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Barnshee, in the PWC report that this is based on almost all the saving being made are coming from that centralising of HR & waste managment, in almost all other areas the reduction will be “neutral” at best, because the costs of the merger are so high. A 15 council model could deliver most of those savings still, but greatly reduce the change over costs.

  • lamhdearg2

    TT, has got this covered,Birmingham council in England serves over a million people, and they dont have a stormont on top of that.

  • mollymooly

    “the government down there wants to further strangle democracy by reducing the number of seats – and therefore the chances of people from outside the big parties”

    In STV, the chances of people from outside the big parties depend not on the total number of seats on the council but rather on the number of seats in each local electoral area. Currently this is 3 to 7, and there is no reason to suggest it will be reduced.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Wasn’t the SDLP after 15 councils and isn’t this Attwoods responsibility?

    I can’t understand how Sinn Fein and the DUP can force Attwoods to implement a policy he doesn’t support.

    Surely there’s a compromise that could sort out a number of difficulties. 15 Council’s with 6 MLAs drawn from each one. That’s 90 MLAs which the DUP can claim as a victory for their policy of reducing the numbers,even if they really want 80. They might think they are on course to get 96 with the Westminster shake up cutting the number of constituencies, but I understand that this proposal is looking less likely to go through. 108 down to 90 is a decent cut. It also address the concern that smaller parties could be cut out. I think that reduction don’t necessarily hurt smaller parties if the reduction is to constituencies rather than the number of seats in each.

  • Drumlins Rock

    lamhdearg, I covered the size comparison issue in this post, pointing out on an international comparison our existing councils would be large, here is one bit I included with reference to Yorkshire. “North Yorkshire is roughly the same area as NI with just over a million residents, the county council covers 7 of the 11 districts, with the other 4 urban districts being Unitary Authorities in the urban areas. As a comparison the District of Richmondshire has a population of 51,000 with 33 councillors, compare this to Omagh with a larger population and only 21 councillors.”

  • DR,

    I said “based on” – there would be room for some variation. Banbridge, Newry and Lisburn would be obvious places where county boundaries could be breached. Fermanagh could be merged outright with Tyrone.

    For example, let’s say we merged existing councils thus, shaving off some of the more obvious cross-boundary bits. A napkin calculation (depending on exact boundary changes) would be:

    BELFAST ~ 350k:
    Belfast, Castlereagh (minus Carryduff and possibly Dundonald) plus bits of Lisburn
    ANTRIM ~320k:
    Ballymena, Ballymoney, Moyle, Larne, Carrickfergus, Newtownabbey, Antrim
    North Down, Ards, Down, Lisburn plus bits of Castlereagh, Banbridge and Newry
    Craigavon, Armagh, most of Newry and Banbridge
    Cookstown, Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane, Fermanagh
    (LONDON)DERRY ~250k:
    Coleraine, Magherafelt, Limavady, Derry City

    Urban, eastern councils will be slightly higher in population and lower in area compared to rural, western ones – swings and roundabouts. We also match (sort of) the proposed super-A&E departments in RVH, Antrim, Dundonald (erm), Craigavon and Altnagelvin.

  • tyrone_taggart

    Drumlins Rock
    “pointing out on an international comparison”

    How many have as few powers/responsibilities as our local government?

  • Drumlins Rock

    AG, it actualy makes much more sense than the current proposals, only difference is I would make Belfast 450k, it is never gonna be equal with the rest, max its size so it has more clout internationally, that brings Antrim & Down equal with the rest. However thats a bit too big to be local, will post my 15 proposal sometime but the key is keeping them local, while pooling resorces at the same time, ie. have 2 Tyrone Councils & Fermanagh pool plannning etc. you could get most of the saving with very little costs, keep much of the existing local identity and get back a little closer to County boundaries.

  • Drumlins Rock

    TT, a French Town council, or American one for that matter has similar powers, and are often far smaller, find me examples of LARGE councils with so little power, remember creating bigger more powerful councils will create a rival to Stormont.

  • Billy Pilgrim

    Why the apparent necessity of having councils of similar populations?

    Still don’t understand the problem with having six county councils, and a metropolitan council for Belfast. Cultural identification with one’s democratic institutions is important, and the counties provide just such an identification.

    If Down County Council serves 450k while Fermanagh County Council serves 60k, so what?

  • DR, I wasn’t arbitrarily making Belfast 350k, I was adding contiguous bits of Lisburn and Castlereagh and guesstimating that it would happen to come out at that number (although it may have been an underestimate). There’s no point aiming at an arbitrary council size of 450k just so Belfast can feel big about itself. How would you do it anyway, gobble up Newtownabbey?

  • RyanAdams

    The notion that Belfast stops at Forestside, and that Carryduff, Dundonald, Rathcoole and Glengormley are not suburbs of Belfast is nonsense, and the only reason for their exclusion is no doubt down the fact these areas don’t vote the way certain parties would prefer did.

    In the most obvious case of gerrymandering:

    Four Winds to City Hall – 3 Miles (As the crow flies) 3.5 by road
    Lagmore – 5 Miles (As the crow flies) 6 Miles (Road)

    Lets not bother calculating the distance between Lisburn and the two suburbs aforementioned.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Basically yes, Newtownabbey, (minus the Ballyclare and rural wards) Castlereagh, with the rural wards taken off, and Holywood, all of these are Belfast in all logical senses, the Lisburn border is as always up for debate, but Lisburn, Carrickfergus & Bangor are distinct enough to remain outside the boundary, the rest are now “Urban Villages” within Greater Belfast, In fact the likes of Glengormley and Dundonald would probably have a stronger identity within a greater Belfast than they do within makey upey Newtwonabbey & Castlereagh.

  • I can see there is logic in expanding Belfast to include Newtownabbey etc, but I’m not sure how politically acceptable it would be. Perhaps that could be stage two?

  • tyrone_taggart

    Drumlins Rock:

    “TT, a French Town council, or American one….”

    Howard county has 5 representatives;…some have little power others have considerable powers most appear to require few representatives.

    The question is why have both Stormont and all this local government?

  • Drumlins Rock

    TT, almost all nations have 3 levels of government,
    National / Federal
    Regional / State
    Local / County / Borough what ever.

    There is no one size fits all. I’m happy for the vast majority of power to rest at Stormont & Wesminster, but an area the size of Northern Ireland, with the population of Northern, with a long and complex history and complex variations (accents if nothing else!) needs to recognise those strong local identities within government structures, percisely because they are quite powerless means they are cheap to run and can be smaller than elsewhere.

  • Drumlins Rock

    France btw has 26 Regions, 12 of which are similar or smaller than NI, then regions comunes etc. they would be shocked at our centralised system!

  • Drumlins Rock

    In the United States, a county is a geographic subdivision of a state (or federal territory), usually assigned some governmental authority. The term “county” is used in 48 of the 50 states; Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs.[1] Parishes and boroughs are called “county-equivalents” by the U.S. federal government, as are certain independent cities which are not parts of counties. There are 3,033 organized county or county-equivalent governments in the United States according to 2007 Census of Governments.[2]

    The powers of counties arise from state law and vary widely.[3] In some states including Connecticut and Rhode Island,[4][5] counties are geographic entities, but not governmental jurisdictions. At the other extreme, Maryland counties and the county-equivalent City of Baltimore handle almost all services, including public education, although the state retains an active oversight authority with many of these services.[6]

    The average number of counties per state is 62. The state with the most counties is Texas with 254; while the state with fewest is Delaware with three. As of the 2000 Census, the average county population was about 100,000. The most populous county is Los Angeles County, California, with an estimated population of 9,880,000 (2009 Census estimate), greater than all but eight U.S. states. The least populous is Loving County, Texas, with 82 residents as of 2010.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “percisely because they are quite powerless means they are cheap to run”

    Sorry powerless means they can do nothing of any worth so there is no point in having them. The local government is the 4th level ie

    National / Federal : EU
    Regional / State: UK
    Local / County / Borough : Stormont

  • lamhdearg2

    Drumlins, if comparing representation, look at the numbers, belfast 52 councilers 24 MLAs, surely the 24* could do the work (insert smiley) of the 52.

    * or even up the MLA number to 32, if deciding what hols to give the binmen is too much work for 24 people.

  • Drumlins Rock

    London has 73 MPs but one Mayor, your point?

  • lamhdearg2

    my point?, we dont need that many people, to do the work that needs doing.

  • tyrone_taggart

    Drumlins Rock

    “France btw has 26 Regions, 12 of which are similar or smaller than NI, then regions comunes etc. they would be shocked at our centralised system!”

    You said the local administration was “quite powerless”. So there removal will make no difference to how much power is centralised.

  • Drumlins Rock

    TT, its not the power or cost that is the major issue, the sense of local identity that will be destroyed by the current proposals. Identity, community and a sense of belonging are quite large factors in our quality of life.

  • NI’s current district councils are more or less equivalent to RoI town councils (facing the chop themselves) or the much larger English non-metropolitan districts, but with even fewer powers since council housing and tax collection is centralised in NI. Stormont handles both devolved (i.e formerly national) responsibilities and most of those usually carried out by local government, e.g. roads, schools and council housing.

    There are two strands to local government reform, boundaries and powers. Councils are not only too small, but they are too weak. It is this weakness (pointlessness?) that is the fundamental problem, not their size. If we decide to give them similar powers as unitary authorities in Scotland and Wales, then they need to be larger. There may be a case, due to NI’s small size, for keeping some powers at Stormont that are exercised locally elsewhere – health and library boards for example. But there are spending powers that would be better in local hands, such as roads and strategic planning, and local authorities also have a role to play in oversight of policing, education etc.

    The basic flaw with the current proposals is that they’re just tinkering. If you’re going to spend money reorganising then do it properly or not at all.

  • alex gray

    Let’s face it. The right thing to do would be to abolish all the councils and turn Stormont into a unitary authority for the whole province. The whole place is still smaller than Birmingham. That would save a huge amount of money but the Councillors who form the majority of “activists” in all parties would stop this rational idea in its tracks. Mind you the only thing they are active in is the own self-preservation. What on earth do these councillors do ?? Even under the new arrangements they have no power worth talking about. .

  • tyrone_taggart

    “the sense of local identity that will be destroyed by the current proposals”


  • PaddyReilly

    I was at a loss to understand what this thread was about from its introduction, but the contributors seem to have decided correctly.

    Yes, Northern Ireland is a gerrymander: its borders were created entirely by Unionists, to the advantage of Unionism. So to restore the balance of power and introduce an element of fair-play, the answer is to hand the creation of local government borders over to a committee of Nationalists. And when this is accomplished, to restory plenary powers to local government. What we have so far is an attempt to justify the reverse,

  • fordprefect

    Yawnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. It wouldn’t matter whether the councils were reduced or we had more foisted on us, you’ll still get the same useless Shitbags “representing” us! There are of course, some notable exceptions to all this (i.e. some councillors actually live in the area they represent and do their best for people, that’s both Unionist and Nationalist), but, in the main, (look above). As Mark Twain (I think) said: “If voting changed anything, you wouldn’t be allowed to do it!

  • I agree the reform of local government is an absolute nonsense.The PWC report totally undermines the economic case.
    Paying £120m upfront to gain a hoped for £400m over 25 years. Even if this is acheived it will result in savings of a mere 3% per annum.
    It is a classic case of ignoring the financial facts and pressing forward with proposals which have been totally undermined by the evidence just to save the face of the EXecutive.

    At a time when we are cutting out education and health service it is grossly irresponsible to waste £120 million on the proposed reform of local government.
    The decision of the Executive to go ahead with the reform of local government is incredible. Has no-one read the PWC report? To proceed at present is a classic case of ignoring the financial facts and pressing forward with proposals which have been totally undermined by the evidence.
    To proceed with the 11 council model is not only irrational but it will fail to achieve any of the original objectives of the RPA. In the present economic climate it is irresponsible to spend £120m (on PWC figures) up front and look forward to some questionable savings over the next 25years. Neither the Councils nor the Department can justify such expenditure particularly at a time when other services including Education and Health are being cut.
    The 11 Council model will not achieve any of the original aims coterminosity, the transfer of significant new powers to local government, the recruitment of new more professional councillors and in particular make significant savings for the ratepayers.
    The meagre savings identified by the PWC report could easily be met by efficiency savings and closer cooperation’s between existing councils. Planning could easily be transferred to the 26 councils with minimum disruption using the Group system.

  • tyrone_taggart

    “Planning could easily be transferred to the 26 councils with minimum disruption using the Group system.”

    Which services current run by the Councils could not be equally be transferred to the 26 councils with minimum disruption using the Group system.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Paddy, the Gerrymander is the artificial boundary being created that makes Belfast Nationalist in the long term, cutting of urban areas that are clearly part of the Conurbation. In Return Armagh, Limavady & Moyle will come under Unionist Control.

    Thanks Brian, your 100% on the mark.

  • Ulidian

    Drumlins Rock

    Surely Armagh/Banbridge/Craigavon is going to become increasingly marginal?