Council shake-up could spark Assembly revamp - McLaughlin

Sinn F�in MLA Mitchel McLaughlin.
Sinn F�in MLA Mitchel McLaughlin.

The upcoming changes to local government could lead to similar restructuring at Stormont, a Principal Deputy Speaker of the Assembly has said.

Mitchel McLaughlin, the former Foyle MLA who now represents South Antrim in the Assembly, was one of the first Sinn Féin councillors to be elected to Derry City Council and is now a Principal Deputy Speaker at Stormont.

Mr McLaughlin is set to be the first republican to become Speaker at Stormont when he replaces Foyle DUP MLA William Hay in the coming months.

The deputy speaker said changes at local council level have heralded wider political change in the past.

“When we went into the Council as a group of five there was an attempt by the SDLP and the unionists to exclude us from being committee chairs. We eventually broke all of that down. It took a lot of years but I think all of that indicates a process of continuous change. The change that our entry to the councils was not only the start of the peace process it was the start of incremental change which continues right up to this local government change and will continue to do so. ” he said.

Mr McLaughlin also said the changes the Review of Public Administration will bring could speed up changes to the Assembly.

“The process of change in microcosm can be described as the revolution that went on in local government. It is culminating now in reducing the amount of bureaucracy we have here in local government. The number of local councils is being reduced but the powers are being increased. They will have powers over planning and economic development.

“They will be able to access European investment bank funds that are not available to the Assembly. Those kind of changes that are being instituted will have social and economic impacts.

“For me it is about decentralising power from the Assembly which will itself tee off the review of Assembly structures and the number of departments,” he said.

The South Antrim MLA also predicted the relationship between the new super councils and the Assembly will change. “I think the power relationship will change which means that at a local level people will have more power since the review of local government which followed the McCrory Report in June 1970,” he said.

He also said new councillors elected to the super councils may adjust to the change quicker than returning members. “I think first time councillors who aren’t burdened by the customs of the old regime are going to be the first to start to see the far greater political control they will have.