THE new Fermanagh and Omagh ‘super council’ took a significant step forward last week with the first meeting of the new committee established to oversee its transition.
Under a major shake-up of local government, reducing the number of the north’s councils from 26 to 11, the neighbouring councils will officially merge on April 1, 2015.
On Thursday a selection of Omagh and Fermanagh councillors met in the chamber of the Omagh District Council offices as the Statutory Transition Committee (STC).
Sinn Féin Omagh Town councillor Sean Begley assumed the role as chairman with his party colleague and Erne East councillor Thomas O’Reilly appointed vice-chair.
The appointments under the D’Hondt system broadly reflected Sinn Féin’s dominance across both councils.
The party currently holds 19 of the 44 seats across the two districts as they exist now and will be expected to hold approximately 18 of the merged council’s 40 seats.
Chairman of Fermanagh District Council Alex Baird suggested that “in the spirit of magnanimity”, the vice-chair position of the STC should come from one of the unionist parties.
The comments were supported by UUP councillor Allan Rainey and DUP councillor Errol Thompson.
Sinn Féin Drumquin councillor Frankie Donnelly stated that D’Hondt remained a widely accepted principle to ensure the widest possible representation.
He suggested that D’Hondt would ensure that the smaller parties could hold the chairs of other key committees to be establish to facilitate the merger.
Outlining a “substantial amount of work” ahead, Cllr Donnelly said.
“We should start as we mean to go on.”
The use of D’Hondt was proposed by Cllr Sean Clarke and seconded by Cllr Donnelly.
The proposal passed 10 to five, with the support of both Sinn Féin and the SDLP, with DUP and UUP councillors opposing.
After the meeting Alex Baird said the meeting had gone ‘fairly well’ and said this was the ‘start of a process’.
“We all realise the die has been cast and we now have to work together on this, heading for shadow elections to the new super council in May 2014.
Councillor Baird said there was a deal of ‘getting to know’ the other councillors (from Omagh) but said many of them had been already working together in voluntary form so know each other a little.
“We’ve got to work together for the benefit of the people of the area” continued Alex Baird.
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