The biggest shake-up in Northern Ireland's local government for more than 30 years has been announced by Secretary of State Peter Hain.
Leading political and business figures have been giving their reaction to the changes made to health, education and council services in the Review of Public Administration.
IAN PAISLEY MP, DUP LEADER
Ian Paisley said the new councils will not be accountable
This is a clear attempt to split the province. Nationalists will be able to develop their united Ireland policy in the councils that they dominate.
On the other hand, the government will ensure that unionist councils will be forced into a non-democratic system whereby their democratic wishes will be thwarted.
EDDIE McGRADY MP, SDLP
Eddie McGrady said the changes would result in less representation
CPS:TPQUOTE>Seven area councils will result in a total absence of local representation with representatives, in many cases removed from the electoral ward they represent.
Existing local government services will still have to be paid for and indeed we understand local government services will be expanded.
MICHAEL FERGUSON, SINN FEIN
Democratic accountability, equality and diversity are the necessary corner stones of a future approach to the delivery of education.
Sinn Fein will scrutinise the review recommendations to ensure that these core principles are protected.
JIM WILSON, ULSTER UNIONIST PARTY
Today marks the beginnings of a government endorsed sectarian carve-up in Northern Ireland.
We support a reduction in local government, authorities, quangos and government bodies but this model is divisive and creates Balkanisation. We are talking about the greening of west of the lower Bann and the Lagan.
DAVID FORD, ALLIANCE
David Ford said the move did not make sense for regional services
This was supposed to be a well-thought out, strategic review of public administration for a generation.
It does not make sense for either major regional services like health or for local accountability.
BRIAN WILSON, GREEN PARTY
These proposals will effectively destroy local democracy, increase sectarianism and take the local out of local government.
Can anyone seriously call it local government when the "local" town hall may be 50 miles away?
DAVID DOBBIN, CBI CHAIRMAN
Business will welcome the decision to reduce the number of bodies, create fewer and simpler interfaces, and create more aligned boundaries.
We believe this will create a more strategic and joined-up approach which will lead to better public services, with more resources focused on the front line.
PETER WEIR, NORTHERN IRELAND LOCAL GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION
Peter Weir said he was dismayed by the announcement
I am totally shocked and dismayed that the secretary of state has embarked on a course of action which completely undermines the opinions of the majority of elected representatives throughout the sector.
NILGA are furious at today's decision, it is obvious that direct rule ministers have completely ignored the legitimate voice of local politicians and proceeded with their own agenda to impose a seven council model.
MICHAEL MAGUIRE, CHAIRMAN OF THE INSTITUTE OF DIRECTORS
As the body representing directors, we are pleased that the views of the business community have been taken on board.
We also welcome the secretary of state's intention to talk to the political parties about reducing the number of central government departments.
WILFRED MITCHELL, FEDERATION OF SMALL BUSINESSES
We welcome the fact that we are to have seven new local councils with further powers including economic development.
However, we will be pressing for Invest Northern Ireland to locate their regional offices in each of the new seven council areas and develop a new relationship with them to ensure that our economy will prosper.
GRAHAM FUREY, ULSTER FARMERS' UNION
We want to see front line services improved for all citizens in Northern Ireland, including rural dwellers and our own members.
We need a careful balance between rationalising government administration and providing effective local representation and accountability.
JANICE SMYTH, ROYAL COLLEGE OF NURSING
We now need to move the debate forward beyond structures and towards clarification of how health care will actually be governed, managed and delivered within the new system.
We also need to ensure that appropriate investment is made in the health service and particularly in the recruitment and retention of the health professionals who deliver patient care.
DR BRIAN PATTERSON, BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION
The BMA is cautiously optimistic that the proposed future structures could provide the opportunity for the reform the Health Service in Northern Ireland really needs.
It is imperative that reforms are implemented in a way that benefits patients, and we are willing to work with the department to achieve this.