Council stands firm on selections

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BALLYMONEY Borough Council will resist any pressure to change the selection procedure which saw the DUP take four of the five seats for the new District Council Statutory Transition body.

The method by which Councillors chose their representation on the Transition council has brought a rap over the knuckles from Environment Minister, Mark H Durkan and North Antrim MLA Robin Swann.

However, the council is prepared to stand by its guns despite a letter from Mr. Durkan in which he has instructed his civil servants to draft amended regulations to force councils to change their stance.

The row developed after the council based their nomination on the current party strength and not, as was recommended by the Government, on the outcome of the 2011 elections.

Had they chosen the 2011 option, it would have meant three DUP, one UUP and one Sinn Fein being elected.

However, the return of Cllr. Bill Kennedy to the DUP increased their power base and enabled them to take four of the five seats, excluding the UUP in the process.

Mr. Durkan has appealed to councils and the leaders of political parties to abide by the letter and spirit of guidance issued by the Department of the Environment, and sort out the nomination process to their Statutory Transition Committees without further delay.

But the DUP’s party leader, Bill Kennedy, insisted that the council had done nothing wrong and there was no statute compelling them to do anything different.

“Six other councils have done the same as us and Mr. Durkan can huff and puff all he likes, we won’t be changing.

“To introduce new legislation at this stage would be time consuming and costly. We have elections next May and if anyone feels aggrieved then they can let the electorate decide,” he said.

Mr Durkan said the approach by Ballymoney and others was conducted in a manner contrary to the spirit in which the associated Regulations were made.

Mr Durkan said: “We have a situation where a small number of councils have disregarded or irrationally or perversely interpreted the guidance which was provided to ensure that the make-up of these committees had fair and proportionate political representation.

“I have now asked my officials to begin drafting amended regulations which will specify exactly how this nomination process should proceed in those offending areas. I have also asked them to investigate the steps necessary to allow me to direct councils by order or allow the Department to make modifications.

Mr Swann said; “My party colleague, Tom McKeown, pointed out that the appropriate basis for making the appointments was on party strength at the election in 2011, which would give a representation of three DUP, one UUP and one SF.

“The transition committees will wield significant powers, and given the Stormont experience, the thought of only Sinn Fein and the DUP having a say in the way local government develops fills me with dread.”

Ballymoney Councillors were due to discuss the matter at their monthly meeting on Monday night.