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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Northern Ireland: Council closure?
Robin Sheeran
Robin Sheeran
Politics Show, Northern Ireland

Looking out from the viewing point at Lough Navar high on the escarpment above the Fermanagh lakes you take in a panoramic view across this beautiful county.

Fermanagh District Council logo

Its population of 58,000 could easily fit inside Old Trafford of a Saturday afternoon.

The people of Fermanagh have a strong sense of identity with their county and its distinctive watery landscape.

Now the local council which has served them for decades is under threat of closure.

When the Westminster government stripped Northern Ireland's local councils of most of their powers in the 1970s, it was said they were left with the jobs of collecting the bins and burying the dead.

Control over education, housing and health services were hived off to unelected boards.

Sole democratic institution?

During the long period of direct rule that followed the collapse of the power-sharing executive in 1974, the local councils were the last remaining tier of democratic representation in Northern Ireland.

In 2002, during one of the brief interludes of devolved power at Stormont, the First and Deputy First Ministers launched a Review of Public Administration.

The idea was to rationalise not just Northern Ireland's 26 local councils, but also more than 100 quangos.

Fermanagh doomed?

BBC Northern Ireland has learned that the final proposal of the Review is likely to include a cut in the number of local councils from 26 to seven.

The number of councillors would drop from about 580 to just 350.

Individual council areas would contain about 250,000 people.

Under such a scheme, the days of Fermanagh appear doomed.

Tom Elliott, MLA
Tom Elliott calls for the council to be retained

On Politics Show Northern Ireland, Jim Fitzpatrick travels to Fermanagh to gauge the depth of feeling in the county.

Speaking on his farm at Ballinamallard, the Ulster Unionist MLA, Tom Elliott, calls for local government for local people.

"The local administration should stay local," he says.

"The people of Fermanagh fear being swallowed up in a 'supercouncil'," Mr Elliott adds.

The local administration should stay local
Tom Elliott, MLA

The argument in favour of local identity has to be weighed up against the desire to streamline Northern Ireland's bloated system of public service provision.

Jim Fitzpatrick
Jim Fitzpatrick presents Politics Show from Northern Ireland

Those opposed to the possible changes suspect the Government may be aiming to rush the proposals through before any return of devolved power to Stormont.

Politics Show

Where do we go from here? Find out on Politics Show.

Let us know what you think. That is Politics Show, Sunday, 10, October at 12.30pm.

Have your say

Join Jim Fitzpatrick when he presents Politics Show from Northern Ireland.


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