THE NIO has announced that it is intending to move the date of Local Government Elections in Northern Ireland from the third Wednesday in May to the first Thursday on a permanent basis. In practice, this means that the date of this year’s local elections will coincide with an expected General Election.
Alliance Party Leader, David Ford, has responded to this announcement by stating that this will lead to a proper debate on local issues being overshadowed by constitutional issues.
David Ford said:
“This is clearly a fix to ensure that the Local Elections coincide with the expected General Election.
“This may be simpler for the election administrators, but is actually very bad for local democracy and in particular the interests of local government. In 2001, when this also occurred, the debates in the General Election campaign completely overshadowed discussion of local issues.
“Who people elect as their Councillor should not be determined by their views on the constitutional question, or a particular interest in the peace process, but rather who is the best person to take decisions on the fair and efficient delivery of local services.
“It is widely anticipated that there will be real polarisation in the coming Westminster Election. This will carry through to the local elections, just as in 2001 there was a noted hardening of opinion in a number of councils. Great efforts are being made in a number of areas to promote power-sharing and better relations, and there is no doubt that this will be undermined.
“Furthermore, independent councillors are a great asset to local government, and can often bring different perspectives. They risk being further squeezed by this decision.
“This significant change in electoral law has been rushed through with no formal consultation with anyone other than the Electoral Office and the Electoral Commission. Even minor changes in electoral law, such as the recent changes in electoral registration, go through lengthy consultation processes.
“The only justification given for this major change is that it will bring election dates in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK. In fact, it will only bring us into line with rural England.
“The Government really should come clean as to the actual motive.”