New Mid-Ulster Council could be run by ‘cabinet’ of councillors

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Mid-Ulster’s new amalgamated council could be run by a powerful inner cabinet, it has emerged.

The prospect has alarmed some councillors who have called for further clarification as to how the make-up of the cabinet would be determined.

Under the proposed system, the cabinet would make the major decisions about council services, lead in the preparation of the council’s policies and budget, as well as the planning process. Individual cabinet members would be given special areas of expertise or portfolios.

UUP Councillor Walter Cuddy has expressed his concerns about the proposals.

“If the Mid-Ulster Council goes down this route, I would call for a fairer system of electing the cabinet members, given that the d’Hondt system, while good in principle does not always fairly reflect the proportion of each party’s representation”, he said.

“No system is perfect, and even those who introduced the system to Northern Ireland admitted that.

“I have no issue with Sinn Fein being the largest party, but we need to ensure that the other parties are represented in a fair way.”

According to Councillor Cuddy, the transition committee is meeting with Environment Minister Mark H Durkan next week to seek clarification on the council shake-up.

“We will be seeking information about the cabinet type structure in what will be our first meeting with the minister”, said the Dungannon representative.

“I personally will also be asking where and how the proposed savings will be made.

“We are alarmed that no extra money is being provided for the changes, and that the council will have to fund the cost, which was originally estimated at £118m for Northern Ireland as a whole.

“The cost of redundancies over the next few years alone will cost us a fortune.”

Councillor Cuddy also warned that Dungannon and South Tyrone could become marginalised by the appointment of Derry man Anthony Tohill as the new chief executive.

“I welcome the appointment but am concerned that Magherafelt will be become the new hub and that the Dungannon District will become disadvantaged.

“We already belong to different health and education boards to Magherafelt and it makes little sense to group us together.”

Meanwhile, Minister Mark H Durkan has warned the new council cabinets against meeting “in secret”.

The minister, who is overseeing the merger of the current 26 authorities into 11 new bodies by May, confirmed the legislation going through the Assembly allows for cabinet-style governance in town halls.

He was responding to a question from Traditional Unionist leader Jim Allister, who said: “The minister’s Bill anticipates that there may be control in a council by a cabinet system. Would that cabinet meet in secret?”

The Environment Minister replied: “The provision does indeed exist for a council to establish a committee-style form of governance.

“It is certainly my vision that there will be no secret meetings unless there are details of a commercially or personally sensitive nature. All council business, where possible, should be open.

“That should extend to the cabinet of any council should it choose to go with the cabinet system.”