AN Alliance Party delegation has met with Environment Minister Alex Attwood to discuss the carve-up of top posts in Unionist dominated Councils.
Party Leader David Ford MLA, Chief Whip Stewart Dickson MLA and MLA for South Belfast Anna Lo, were joined by local Councillors Conrad Dixon, Craigavon, Neil Kelly, Antrim, Geraldine Rice, Michael Long and Tim Morrow, Castlereagh and Noel Williams, Carrickfergus, to highlight the party’s concerns over current local government systems.
As it stands many Unionist dominated Councils see the DUP and UUP take the top positions – including Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Committee Chair positions – each year, denying other Councillors their elected right to these positions.
The delegation pressed the Minister on the issue, saying legislation should be in place before the new Council boundaries are introduced under RPA, and if possible, before Councils hold their next AGMs in 2013.
Speaking after the meeting, Stewart Dickson MLA said: “The Minister was keen to hear the Alliance Party’s view ahead of the future transition to new local authorities. We believe change is needed. Decision-making in local government, as elsewhere should be underpinned by adherence to good relations and equality.
“We are seriously concerned about the continued carve up of Unionist dominated councils. Year after year Alliance and other parties more often than not find themselves excluded from holding the top positions in local Councils, despite their electoral right to do so.
“We are calling for party groups in all Council areas to adhere to a voluntary system, but where this isn’t possible mandatory legislation must be put in place to ensure council positions are divided up fairly.
“In many Councils a voluntary agreement can be found among the different party groups, but this is clearly not the case in Carrickfergus, Antrim, Craigavon or Castlereagh, where history also shows us this is unlikely to happen in the future.
“Legislation must be introduced to make this mandatory and, if possible, should be in place before local Councils hold their AGMs in 2013.”
The Alliance Party re-affirmed its support to an STV (single transferable vote) system, saying it believed it was the best possible method to achieve a solution for all elected representatives, as well as the need for a more robust code of practice.
Mr Dickson continued: “The Alliance Party advocates the use of the STV system to divide up Council posts. STV is a much fairer system, as it is clear d’hondt achieves nothing for smaller parties, only benefiting the larger Unionist groupings.
The delegation also took the opportunity to raise a number of serious issues over the treatment of Alliance Councillors on Castlereagh Borough Council, who in recent months have been subjected to verbal abuse from other elected representatives.
Castlereagh group leader Councillor Geraldine Rice said: “There are a number of issues that we feel the Minister should be concerned about in Castlereagh, especially the presence of an elected member on the Council’s management team. We believe this is highly inappropriate.
“During recent months Alliance Councillors have also been subjected to abusive and offensive language, which has gone far beyond reasonable behaviour and must not be tolerated.
“The Alliance Party is calling for a robust mandatory code of conduct that all elected representatives must adhere to, making sure no Councillor is subjected to the treatment we have received in Castlereagh recently.
Stewart Dickson MLA added: “We are pleased the Minister took the time to meet with us and have been encouraged by all he had to say. Seeking our views on a number of issues – including planning and training for new staff and Councillors – we look forward to continued discussion on all the issues raised today.
“And when the time comes, we look forward to a full debate on the future of local government in the Assembly.”