DISCIPLINARY issues with council staff in the Mid-Ulster area have cost the taxpayer £43,229 in terms of legal fees, it has been revealed.
It is believed that the true cost of the disciplinary procedures is much higher as the total does not include the cost of paying staff during suspension.
The figures, which were revealed last week at the Northern Ireland Assembly, show the total cost of legal fees for the three council areas of Dungannon, Cookstown and Magherafelt that will go to make up the new merged Mid-Ulster council.
Disciplining staff at Dungannon Council cost £4,348 in terms of legal fees over the past five years.
Magherafelt ran up the biggest bill with a staggering £38,881 paid out to solicitors, the second highest for any council area in Northern Ireland, while Cookstown had no legal fees whatsoever.
Castlereagh Borough Council had the highest bill at £53,142, while Cookstown had one of the lowest.
No details of the number of staff disciplined were included in the figures.
The high costs raise questions about the financial impact of disciplining staff at a time of historic change in the structuring of local government in the Mid-Ulster area.
Councils are currently tightening their belts as they face unprecedented pressures on their services due to the economic downturn.
Meanwhile, there have been warnings that the birth of the new super council might prove to be a difficult one.
Concerns have been expressed over the political make-up of the new transition committee which will oversee the creation of the merged council.
UUP Councillor Walter Cuddy has warned that its imbalance of power might be exaggerated and lead to further inequalities.
“The d’Hondt system of representation has worked well in the past to give fair representation, but unfortunately on this occasion it has resulted in four councillors from Magherafelt belonging to Sinn Fein, and just one to the DUP, which doesn’t reflect each party’s proportion of the vote.
“Given that Sinn Fein polled less than 60 percent of the vote, it is fair that the party received 80& of the seats. No one is disputing that Sinn Fein is the largest party in the Mid-Ulster area, however, I am concerned that in this instance the d’Hondt system might exacerbate inequalities rather than remove them.
“Fortunately, the system has worked well in the Dungannon area.”