SDLP MLA for Mid-Ulster Patsy McGlone has said the assembly debate on the Local Government Bill presents an opportunity to reform our councils.
Mr. McGlone said: “The SDLP has consistently argued that the principle of equality must be the cornerstone of any reform of local government and that equality of treatment must be enshrined in the legislation.
“We welcome the measures contained in the Bill which will achieve that aim. The new Councils will have greater and more wide-ranging powers than before, including a new lead role in community planning. It is vital that those powers are exercised with great responsibility.
“One of the most significant measures, in that regard, is the enshrinement in law, for the first time, of the sharing of council positions across political parties. The introduction of a mandatory code of conduct for all councillors, and increased transparency of council proceedings, will help to generate a culture of greater accountability to the public.
“Also included in the Bill are important measures designed to protect the interests of minority groups within the new Council areas which are to be welcome.
“We have seen in the past examples where political interference has prevailed, rather than the primacy of equality and good practice - this has led to bad decisions and downright discrimination in housing, employment and planning.
“The ‘qualified majority’ clause and the ‘call-in’ procedure for contentious decisions will enable local representatives to prevent the kind of abuses of power that have, unfortunately, characterised our recent history.
“The subordinate legislation, which is to follow, further defining these new measures will be carefully examined to ensure there is no dilution of the commitment to equality intended in the Bill.
“My party is committed to ensuring that these equality measures remain at the heart of the new legislation reforming our Local Government. It is essential that the principle of equality is the cornerstone of that reform, and that equality of treatment is kept enshrined in the Bill as it passes through this Assembly.”