Nationalists have expressed concern at British Direct Ruler Peter Hain’s proposals for changing the role of the Housing Executive (HE) in the North.
The executive was established 35 years ago after persistent political discrimination by local authorities in the allocation of social housing.
Despite the executive’s generally positive image, the organisation’s board has never had a Sinn Féin representative appointed to it.
Peter Hain revealed that the executive’s housing allocation function could be transferred to the proposed seven supercouncils after they replace the existing local authorities in 2009.
Announcing the development as part of wider moves to cut government waste in the North, Peter Hain said: “We believe that housing is essentially a local issue and, for that reason, we will consider the transfer of housing to local government at a future stage, once the new councils are in place, fully operational and bedded in.”
Three or four of the new supercouncils would have a built-in unionist majority. Existing unionist-dominated councils, such as Lisburn council, are virtually bywords for sectarianism and discrimination.
Sinn Féin assembly member Alex Maskey stressed nationalists would require confidence that unionists would not abuse housing allocation powers.
“Sinn Féin believe that there is role for the Housing Executive as a regional and strategic body that ensures that there is a common housing policy, is responsible for allocation and making sure that we are building enough social housing to meet need,” Mr Maskey said.
“While there is strong argument for councils to have a greater role in housing it will be a long time before nationalists will trust unionists with powers of housing provision or allocation.
“There must be cast-iron checks and balances to ensure equality and that there would be no return to the sectarian abuse of powers by unionists that led to many powers being stripped from councils in the first place,” Mr Maskey said.
In relation to his general blueprint, Mr Hain said he had reconsidered his decision to allow a maximum of 50 councillors to each council and had decided to increase this to 60 members.
More than 100,000 people work in the North’s public sector. Hain’s proposals for restructuring are intended to save 200 million pounds.