Parties clash over shake-up

THERE were divisions between the parties last night over the new 11 super-council model.

The DUP and Ulster Unionists were at loggerheads inside and outside the Executive.

The UUP favoured a 15-council model as the right size and mix of councils: both for unionism and for the Province as a whole in terms of steering clear of any balkanisation of the land.

The party is particularly anxious that Belfast could 'go green' for the first time and that that will have major consequences symbolically and for unionist confidence.

It fears Sinn Fein could take Belfast in the direction it has taken Newry and Mourne.

Under the 15-council system, Belfast would have had a boundary based on the four Westminster constituencies and would have stayed unionist.

Under 11, the current Belfast City Council area will be tweaked outwards by the Boundary Commissioner and the UUP believe it will favour Sinn Fein.

UUP MLA Fred Cobain said: "What the Provos could not do in 30 years with bombs and bullets they will do with a stroke of a pen – and that is turning Belfast green," he said.

"We are not a minority. Belfast is a unionist city and Arlene Foster will turn it from a unionist into a republican and nationalist city.

"She should be ashamed of herself."

Reject

The DUP categorically reject this.

It claims to have done its homework and believes that Belfast, when moving outwards in size and taking in the likes of parts of the unionist Castlereagh and Newtownabbey as well as nationalist parts of Lisburn/Lagan Valley, will lean unionist.

Unlike the other councils, which will have 40 seats each, Belfast will have 60 and unionists will fare well, the party claims.

Also, under 11 councils it is predicted there will be six unionist to four nationalist councils across the area – with Belfast probably hung or unionist.

Under 15, the DUP said it would have been seven each, between unionist and nationalist, and then Belfast.

Ms Foster said: "Assertions from the Ulster Unionist Party, in the form of Fred Cobain, that the DUP has somehow engaged in a deal that hands Belfast to nationalists in electoral terms is complete and utter rubbish.

"I made recommendations to the Executive based on the work of the sub-committee. It has been well known that seven and 15 were unachievable objectives.

"The notion that Northern Ireland's capital city will be governed exclusively by nationalists and republicans in the future is a fantasy created by the Ulster Unionist Party."

Exposed

Sinn Fein said the UUP response was exposed as a "sectarian underbelly" to the party.

MLA John O'Dowd said: "Fred Cobain's view of Belfast, for example, clearly exposes the sectarian and undemocratic underbelly of a party that fails to recognise that it has no supreme right to rule."

SDLP MLA Tommy Gallagher said: "People across the north – but especially nationalists in the west – will be glad to see the end of the seven super-council model proposed by Peter Hain and championed by Sinn Fein.

"It was a recipe for repartition and balkanisation which would have done nothing but perpetuate trapped minorities."

But Alliance leader David Ford also launched a stinging attack on Executive plans.

He said they will still result in "a damaging tribal carve-up".

He also said the fact that the two Ulster Unionist ministers voted against the plans underlines deep problems at the heart of the Executive.

Mr Ford added: "Power greed has got the better of the Executive. Creating super-councils was meant to be about giving them more responsibility so that they could respond better to the needs of their area.

"Unfortunately, the Executive hasn't got the vision to realise this."