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Reform of local government in Northern Ireland saw the replacement of the twenty-six districts created in 1973 with a smaller number of "super districts". The review process began in 2002, with proposals for either seven or eleven districts made before it was suspended in 2010. On 12 March 2012, the
Northern Ireland Executive The Northern Ireland Executive is the devolved Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government A central government is the government A government is the system or group of people governing a ...
published its programme for government, which included a commitment to reduce the number of councils in Northern Ireland to 11. The first
elections An election is a formal group decision-makingGroup decision-making (also known as collaborative decision-making or collective decision-making) is a situation faced when individuals An individual is that which exists as a distinct entity. Ind ...
to these new councils were on 22 May 2014.


Background

Compared to unitary authorities in England, the current
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; sco, label=Ulster-ScotsUlster Scots, also known as Scotch-Irish, may refer to: * Ulster Scots people The Ulster Scots (Ulster-Scots The Ulster Scots (Ulster Scots dialects, Ulster- ...

Northern Ireland
districts have small populations, with an average population of about 65,000. In June 2002 the
Northern Ireland Executive The Northern Ireland Executive is the devolved Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government A central government is the government A government is the system or group of people governing a ...
established a Review of Public Administration to review the arrangements for the accountability, development, administration and delivery of public services. Among its recommendations were a reduction in the number of districts. Situation before reform process There were 26 districts, each with a district council, which were created in 1973.


First scheme: seven districts

On 22 November 2005
Peter Hain Peter Gerald Hain, Baron Hain (born 16 February 1950) is a British politician who served as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland The secretary of state for Northern Ireland (; ), also referred to as the Northern Ireland secretary or S ...

Peter Hain
, the
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland The secretary of state for Northern Ireland (; ), also referred to as the Northern Ireland secretary or SoSNI, is a secretary of state in the Government of the United Kingdom ga, Rialtas na Ríochta Aontaithe sco, Govrenment o the Uni ...
, announced proposals to reduce the number of councils to seven. The new authorities were to have a number of new powers in such areas as planning, local roads functions, regeneration, and fostering community relations, which were to be transferred from the existing joint boards and other bodies, that are much closer in size to the proposed local authorities. Legislation was to be introduced to prevent serving councillors also being
Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs; ga, Comhaltaí den Tionól Reachtach; Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots: ''Laa-Makkan Forgaitherars'') are representatives elected by the voters to the Northern Ireland Assembly. About The Northern ...
(the so-called
dual mandate A dual mandate is the practice in which elected officials serve in more than one elected or other public position simultaneously. This practice is sometimes known as double jobbing in Britain and ''cumul des mandats'' in France; not to be confused ...
that was also recently abolished in the
Republic of Ireland Ireland ( ga, Éire ), also known as the Republic of Ireland ('), is a country A country is a distinct territorial body or political entity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective id ...

Republic of Ireland
). Initial reaction from Northern Ireland's political parties, except for
Sinn Féin Sinn Féin ( , ; en, "eOurselves") is an Irish republican and democratic socialist political party active throughout Ireland; both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The History of Sinn Féin, original Sinn Féin organisation wa ...

Sinn Féin
, was hostile, emphasising the reduction in local representation and frequently expressing a fear that the region would be carved up on sectarian lines. Three councils would have had substantial
Ulster Protestant Ulster Protestants ( ga, Protastúnaigh Uladh) are an ethnoreligious group in the Provinces of Ireland, Irish province of Ulster, where they make up about 43% of the population. Many Ulster Protestantism in Ireland, Protestants are descendants ...
majorities, while three would have had
Catholic The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with 1.3 billion baptised Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian ...

Catholic
majorities, with
Belfast Belfast ( ; , ) is the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast. It is the 12th-largest city in the United Kingdom and the second-largest on the island of Ireland. It had a popul ...

Belfast
very nearly equally balanced. Former
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland The secretary of state for Northern Ireland (; ), also referred to as the Northern Ireland secretary or SoSNI, is a secretary of state in the Government of the United Kingdom ga, Rialtas na Ríochta Aontaithe sco, Govrenment o the Uni ...
, Paul Murphy, criticised the proposals as too severe. The Local Government (Boundaries) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 was made on 9 May 2006 providing for the appointment of a Local Government Boundaries Commissioner to recommend the boundaries and names of the seven districts and then to divide the districts into
ward Ward may refer to: Division or unit * Hospital ward A hospital is a health care Health care, health-care, or healthcare is the maintenance or improvement of health via the preventive healthcare, prevention, diagnosis, therapy, treatm ...
s. Dick Mackenzie was appointed as Commissioner on 1 July 2006. The commissioner announced his provisional recommendations on 7 November 2006: An eight-week public consultation period on the proposals, during which members of the public could make written submissions, ended on 5 January 2007. Public hearings conducted by assistant commissioners were held in January and February 2007. The assistant commissioners issued reports on the results of the hearings, and the commissioner published revised recommendations on 30 March 2007. There were only minor changes to the original scheme. The most controversial aspects of the proposed reform were the names of the new districts.


Second scheme: eleven districts

In June 2007, following the restoration of a power-sharing
Executive Executive may refer to: Role, title, or function * Executive (government) The executive (short for executive branch or executive power) is the part of government A government is the system or group of people governing an organiz ...
, it became clear that the plan to create seven "super-councils" was to be reviewed, if not abandoned. The following month, in July 2007,
Arlene Foster Arlene Isabel Foster, PC, MLA MLA may refer to: Organizations * ''The MLA Style Manual'', published by the Modern Language Association replaced by the MLA Handbook * Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association * Master Locksmiths Association, ...
, Minister for the Environment in the Executive, announced a review. A committee was established to report by the end of 2007. On 13 March 2008 the Executive agreed on proposals brought forward by Environment Minister
Arlene Foster Arlene Isabel Foster, PC, MLA MLA may refer to: Organizations * ''The MLA Style Manual'', published by the Modern Language Association replaced by the MLA Handbook * Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association * Master Locksmiths Association, ...
to create 11 new councils instead of the original 7. The 2 UUP ministers voted against the proposals as their party favoured 15 councils, however the proposals passed by 7 votes to 2. The areas of the eleven proposed councils were to consist of combinations of existing districts as follows: On 25 April 2008,
Shaun Woodward Shaun Anthony Woodward (born 26 October 1958) is a British politician who was the Labour Labour or labor may refer to: * Childbirth Childbirth, also known as labour or delivery, is the ending of pregnancy where one or more babies leaves t ...
,
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland The secretary of state for Northern Ireland (; ), also referred to as the Northern Ireland secretary or SoSNI, is a secretary of state in the Government of the United Kingdom ga, Rialtas na Ríochta Aontaithe sco, Govrenment o the Uni ...
announced that the scheduled 2009 district council elections were to be postponed until the introduction of the eleven new councils in 2011. The names of the new districts were announced on 17 September 2008 with revised names recommended on 27 February 2009. A legal framework for the creation of the 11 new District Councils was put into place with the passing of the Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 2008 by the
Northern Ireland Assembly The Northern Ireland Assembly ( ga, Tionól Thuaisceart Éireann; Ulster Scots: ''Norlin Airlan Assemblie'') often referred to by the metonym Metonymy () is a figure of speech A figure of speech or rhetorical figure is a word or phrase ...
in May 2008. This act repeals the
Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 The Local Government (Boundaries) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 was an Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland The Parliament of Northern Ireland was the home rule Home rule is government of a colony, dependent country, or region by i ...
which established the 26 districts used in 1973–2015.


Suspension

In May 2010 it emerged that the process of bringing the new authorities into existence was likely to be delayed, due to the failure of members of the
Northern Ireland Executive The Northern Ireland Executive is the devolved Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government A central government is the government A government is the system or group of people governing a ...
to agree on boundaries for district electoral areas. The main issue was the inclusion of
Dunmurry Dunmurry (; ) is an urban Urban means "related to a city". In that sense, the term may refer to: * Urban area, geographical area distinct from rural areas * Urban culture, the culture of towns and cities. Urban may also refer to: General * ...
within the city boundaries of Belfast rather than Lisburn City and Castlereagh.
Edwin Poots Edwin Poots (born 27 April 1965) is a Unionist politician in Northern Ireland who served as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from May to June 2021. He was elected as the Member of the Legislative Assembly (Northern Ireland), Member ...
, Northern Ireland
Minister of the Environment An environment minister (sometimes minister of the environment or secretary of the environment) is a Cabinet (government), cabinet position charged with protecting the natural environment and promoting wildlife conservation. The areas associated ...
, opposed the extension of Belfast, while
Sinn Féin Sinn Féin ( , ; en, "eOurselves") is an Irish republican and democratic socialist political party active throughout Ireland; both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The History of Sinn Féin, original Sinn Féin organisation wa ...

Sinn Féin
members of the executive favoured it. The
Northern Ireland Office The Northern Ireland Office (NIO; ga, Oifig Thuaisceart Éireann, Ulster-ScotsUlster Scots, also known as Scotch-Irish, may refer to: * Ulster Scots people The Ulster Scots (Ulster-Scots The Ulster Scots (Ulster Scots dialects ...
made it clear that unless the dispute was speedily resolved, elections due in May 2011 would be to the existing 26 district councils. A decision to delay changes until 2015 was expected to be announced on 13 May 2010, but was postponed, reportedly due to disagreements between Poots and Sammy Wilson, the Executive's Minister of Finance and Personnel. On 15 June 2010, the proposed reforms were abandoned following the failure of the Northern Ireland Executive to obtain cross community support. Ministers from the
Social Democratic and Labour Party The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) ( ga, Páirtí Sóisialta Daonlathach an Lucht Oibre) is a social-democratic Social democracy is a Political philosophy, political, Social philosophy, social, and economic philosophy within s ...
(SDLP),
Sinn Féin Sinn Féin ( , ; en, "eOurselves") is an Irish republican and democratic socialist political party active throughout Ireland; both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. The History of Sinn Féin, original Sinn Féin organisation wa ...

Sinn Féin
and Alliance Party voted in favour of the reforms,
Democratic Unionist Party The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is a unionist and loyalist Loyalism, in the United Kingdom The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain,Usage is mixed. The Guar ...
ministers voted against and
Ulster Unionist Party The Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) is a unionist and conservative Conservatism is an aesthetic Aesthetics, or esthetics (), is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of beauty and taste (sociology), taste, as well as the ...
ministers abstained. Accordingly, elections to the existing 26 councils took place in 2011. The president of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association noted that "Local Government Reform will not take place at all, with no notification that it is simply put off to 2015 which was one of the options the Minister was to put forward to the Executive", and angrily denounced the decision as "clearly not acceptable on any level".


Programme for Government 2011–2015

After the 2011 elections, the new executive drew up a programme for government for the assembly's four-year term, which was published on 12 March 2012. Under "Priority 5: Delivering High Quality and Efficient Public Services", one commitment was "Establish the new 11 council model for Local Government by 2015", under the responsibility of the
Department of the Environment An environmental ministry is a national or subnational government agency politically responsible for the environment and/or natural resources. Various other names are commonly used to identify such agencies, such as Ministry of the Environment, ...
. The milestones laid down for this are: ;2012/13:Progress legislation (to include Local Government Reorganisation Act) and a programme structure necessary to manage change ;2013/14:Arrangements in place for the shadow Councils. Deliver Year 2 of implementation programme ;2014/15:Arrangements in place for the transfer of powers to councils A draft Local Government (Boundaries) Order (Northern Ireland) 2012 was published, specifying eleven districts with names and boundaries similar to the previous proposal. On 12 June 2012, the Northern Ireland Assembly approved the draft Order by 59 votes to 26; the DUP, Sinn Féin, and the Alliance Party voted for, while the Ulster Unionist Party and the SDLP voted against. The Order (2012 No. 421) was made on 30 November 2012.


See also

*
2014 Northern Ireland local elections Local elections were held in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; sco, label=Ulster-ScotsUlster Scots, also known as Scotch-Irish, may refer to: * Ulster Scots people The Ulster Scots (Ulster-Scots Th ...


References


Sources

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Citations

{{DEFAULTSORT:Reform of local government in Northern Ireland History of local government in Northern Ireland 2015 in Northern Ireland Political history of Northern Ireland