ENVIRONMENT Minister Mark H. Durkan has written to Derry City Council and Strabane District Council asking them to re-run a nomination process that saw Sinn Féin members elected to both the Chair and Vice Chair posts of the committee overseeing the merger of the two local authorities.
But Mr Durkan admitted the letter is a request rather than a demand as - short of changing the statutory rules - there is nothing he can do under the law as it stands to enforce a re-run.
Both unionist and nationalist councillors expressed outrage when Sinn Féin snapped up the two top posts on the new Statutory Transition Committee in July.
Mr Durkan admitted the d’Hondt power-sharing mechanism was not stipulated under law.
The statutory rule regulating the committees - which came into effect on July 2 - merely says chairpersons and vice-chairpersons should be selected from the committee’s membership with equal representation from predecessor councils.
Mr Durkan said: “The current guidance has a legal position in relation to the functions of a statutory transition committee but has no basis in law in relation to the nomination process. The guidance was intended to help Councils make fair and balanced decisions, as expected by the electorate, when nominating members to the statutory transition committees.
“In order to allow Councils maximum flexibility, no particular method of democratic selection was prescribed within the statutory transition committee regulations.
“However, my predecessor did recommend in the guidance that Councils use a recognised method of proportional representation namely d’Hondt, Sainte Lague and Single Transferable Vote.”
Thus Mr Attwood asked that Councils use d’Hondt but the legislation didn’t insist on it.
For the record, the Stormont Environment Committee which discussed the draft regulations in June consisted of Anna Lo (Alliance), Sydney Anderson (DUP), Cathal Boylan (Sinn Féin), Tom Elliott (UUP), Barry McElduff (Sinn Féin), Ian Milne (Sinn Féin), Maurice Morrow (DUP) and Peter Weir (DUP).
Mr Durkan has said his predecessor expected councils to behave with political maturity.
“He advocated a light touch approach, believing that Councils should be trusted to demonstrate political maturity and make equitable decisions for the benefit of all citizens and rate payers.
“With some exceptions, most Councils have complied with the guidance,” he said.
He confirmed he has written to Councils who have “still to comply asking them to re-run their nominations process.”
“I am hopeful they will act accordingly. In the event of a failure to do so I intend to intervene to ensure local government reform proceeds for the benefit of citizens, ratepayers and local business,” he said.