Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

More Northern Ireland election news

One of the administrative reforms rumbling around Northern Ireland for the last few years has been the proposed reduction of the number of local councils (26 unitary councils replaced the previous six counties etc structure back in 1972). This is one of those curious political projects that actually doesn't benefit or harm either side's interests very much, except in so far as the current 582 councillors would be reduced in number (on the latest proposals, to 462). The last local council elections were in 2005, and while there normally should have been fresh elections last year, these were postponed to 2011 when the 11 new supercouncils were supposed to come into force, thus giving those councillors elected in 2005 a six-year rather than a four-year term. (This isn't especially outrageous - readers in the Republic may like to reflect that until 1999, local government elections there were held at the convenience of the government, which meant the gap between elections varied randomly between three years and eight.)

But now (see Slugger, the News Letter and the Belfast Telegraph) it seems that the green light for the election to happen on the new boundaries has not come in time from Stormont, and there is talk of postponing the whole exercise for several more years, while holding elections in 2011 for the 26 existing councils - probably on the same day as the Assembly election also due in the first half of next year. There is the usual muttering that the relevant minister, the DUP's Edwin Poots, opposes the transfer of Dunmurry from Lisburn to Belfast. There are lots of reasons to dislike Poots, who is a fairly typical DUP activist, but I would note that his public utterances have always been sceptical on the need for the change in the first place, on the grounds that the cost is not justified by the savings. I would further note that since the immediate cost (at a time when the public belt is to be generally tightened) is projected at £118 million, in return for savings of £430 million over twenty-five year period, scepticism on those grounds is entirely justified.

So it looks now as if the entire project may be shelved for four to five years, and the elections next year will be to the existing 582 seats on the 26 existing councils.

I would propose, however, that in that case one modest reform should be adopted. Due to population change in the 18 years since the current electoral boundaries were drawn up, the electoral areasw are no longer proportional to the number of seats they hold. This was true even at the last eletions in 2005: in Belfast, for instance, the Court (=Shankill Road) and Upper Falls electoral areas each elected five councillors, though Court's electorate was only 13,582 and Upper Falls' 19,767, out of Belfast's total 166,824; allocated proportionately to the 51 seats currently on Belfast City Council, Court should have had four and Upper Falls six. That of course explains also why my proposed reform will not be adopted.
Tags: world: northern ireland
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