Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Maskey challenges SDLP over local government reform

2 December, 2006


Senior Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey today addressed a meeting of
the party's National Elected Representatives Forum in Dublin. The group
comprises Sinn Féin elected representatives at all levels from across the
island. As part of a wide ranging address Mr Maskey accused the SDLP of
becoming obsessed by a numbers game in relation to plans for future local
government in the six counties and of taking their eye of the real battle
which is to ensure that equality provisions are at the heart of any new
arrangements.

Mr Maskey said:

"Sinn Féin have in recent months received much criticism from an unholy
alliance of the SDLP, UUP and DUP on our view that the best model for future
local government structures in the north is based on a seven council model
with the necessary rigorous checks and balances built in. It would be very
easy for Sinn Féin to ignore the fact that we believe that this model is the
best way to ensure equality, to ensure fair representation and to ensure the
effective delivery of services and instead fight for the retention of a vast
number of councils and councillors which are simply not required. However
let me be clear we will not accept any model without rigorous procedures
built in to ensure that the excesses and abuses of local government
witnessed in the north in the past will never be repeated for any community.

"The sort of self preservation approach which has dominated the response
from SDLP councillors across the six counties and their joining forces with
unionism, which is incidentally completely opposed to these proposals, a
fact not lost on nationalists and republicans, has masked the fact that the
SDLP have yet to put any meat on anything other than saying they favour a 12
council model or indeed a 15 council model. Nowhere in any SDLP policy
document or in their response to the consultation do they reveal what shape
they envisage a 12 or 15 council model taking. That have become obsessed by
a numbers game and taken their eye of the real battle which is to ensure
that equality provisions are at the heart of any new arrangements.

"Perhaps the SDLP Deputy Mayor of Castlereagh, Brian Harvey, recently let
the cat out of the bag on a BBC interview, when he stated that the SDLP
would like to see that particular council retained. Castlereagh Council is
and has been a by-word for anti-Catholic bigotry and discrimination. It has
traditionally been dominated completely by the DUP and viewed by many as
little more than an extension of the Paisley party headquarters. Indeed it
was the venue chosen for the recent DUP consultation meeting on the St.
Andrews proposals.

"If the SDLP want to keep Castlereagh Council is it safe to assume that they
are comfortable with keeping Ballymena, Larne, Newtownabby, Carrickfergus
and Lisburn? Maybe that is why the UUP and DUP have been so willing to team
up with the SDLP in their campaign against the seven council model. The fact
is that a seven council model with the necessary checks, balances and
safeguards will provide effective representation for nationalists and
republicans in these areas, in some cases for the first time.

"Sinn Féin having led the campaign against discrimination at local
government level for decades. Having refused to acquiesce to bad practice
but instead to challenge it, we are not about to squander these gains by
adopting a selfish or minimalist approach to this reform issue. We also must
be mindful that unlike the SDLP we have an all-Ireland vision. We are not
simply about local government in the North. We are about ending partition
and developing a united and independent country. Part of this has to be
greater integration of local government services and provision, particularly
in the border region. Good work has already been done in this area and it is
my view that a beefed up local government arrangement in the north will only
benefit and enhance this work.

"Our vision is about delivering for people and communities.  So we will not
be deflected by sound bite politics, or numbers games or self preservation
from the SDLP and their allies within unionism. Important work remains to be
done on this issue. We remain engaged on the political panel and with the
British government. Let me make it clear - we will only be moving forward if
and when our demands for effective equality measures and rigorous
enforcement mechanisms for these are in place. " ENDS

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