Maskey challenges SDLP over local government reform
Senior Sinn Féin Assembly member Alex Maskey has 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 greater number of councils. Nowhere in any SDLP policy document or in their response to the consultation do they reveal what shape they envisage an alternative model taking? They 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 let the cat out of the bag, when in a BBC interview, he said that the SDLP wanted 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 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, the 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