Assembly to begin marathon debate on amendments to local council reform bill

Union flag flying at Belfast City Hall
Union flag flying at Belfast City Hall

The Assembly will today begin a 14-hour debate, spread over two days, on council reform.

The Local Government Bill, which sets out the powers of the 11 new councils which from next year will replace the current 26 councils, is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to have been debated by Stormont since devolution returned in 2007.

The consideration stage will decide on proposed amendments from numerous sources, including the Environment Minister (who has brought the bill to the Assembly), the chair of the Assembly committee which scrutinises his department, and amendments from individual MLAs.

In all, the Assembly will debate 115 amendments to the bill.

Seven and a half hours have been set aside today to debate the bill, with a further six and a half hours set aside for debate tomorrow in a specially-scheduled Wednesday sitting.

However, as there is no time limit on debates about legislation, the sittings could be longer or shorter than timetabled.

One of the amendments, put forward by the Alliance Party, is that councils should have to record their meetings and allow members of the public to listen to the audio recording.

A UUP amendment would stipulate that the Union Flag should be flown on designated days as a minimum and would ban the flying of other national flags such as the tricolour.

The party is also proposing that the Union Flag should fly every day at Belfast City Hall.

And the party has proposed a “rates convergence period lasting a minimum of three years” for those who will suffer from joining a council area with higher rates.

The DUP has tabled several largely technical amendments, some of which relate to the power-sharing mechanisms for the new councils.

Sinn Fein has not tabled any amendments.