DUP seeking legal advice over ‘super council’ group

Former Magherafelt Council Chair Paul McLean
Former Magherafelt Council Chair Paul McLean

THE DUP is seeking legal opinion on the procedure used by Sinn Fein controlled Magherafelt District Council to nominate councillors to the transitional committee of the new Mid-Ulster ‘super council’.

DUP Councillor Paul McLean claimed at the monthly meeting that Sinn Fein had deviated from the d’Hondt system in order to get four of the five nominations to the committee, which will oversee the introduction of the new council.

As a result his party colleague Councillor Ann Forde lost out, and there were no nominations for the minority groupings - the SDLP and UUP.

He said he would not be taking part in the committee meetings until the legal opinion was known.

Sinn Fein council leader Councillor Sean McPeake strongly denied that they had done anything wrong.

He pointed out that the council had used the same procedure to nominate to other bodies, such at the Rivers Agency and Lough Neagh Partnership.

SDLP Councillor Jim Campbell claimed it was the closest they have seen to gerrymandering “since the old days.”

Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan last week begun moves to force five local authorities to reverse their appointments.

He had previously issued guidance stating that nominations to the transition committees should be based on the d’Hondt system based on the 2011 election results.

He has sent warning letters to Ballymoney, Belfast, Castlereagh, Lisburn and Strabane accusing them of employing a variety of strategies to avoid the inclusion of minority parties in the groups.

Mr Durkan warned that if the councils don’t sort out their nomination process he would intervene and force their hands.

Speaking to the MAIL after the meeting, Ulster Unionist Councillor George Shiels accused Sinn Fein of “wilfully and deliberately re-sitting the d’Hondt mechanism to obtain their desired result”.

He said if d’hondt had been followed Sinn Fein would have received two nominations with the other three going to the DUP, SDLP and UUP.

“I do not agree with the ‘super council’, but this would have been a fair reflection of the council,” he said.

He added that the new council would have “checks and balances” in place to prevent, he claimed, Sinn Fein “doing this type of thing in future.”