SUPER-SIZE 7; How Ulster's 26 Councils Will Merge into New Political Map

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THIS is the new political map of Northern Ireland which will be unveiled today.

It shows seven super-councils to replace the current 26 local, district, borough and city councils.

The super-councils will look after bins, rates and leisure just like the present councils, which were created in 1973.

But authorities hope bigger councils will mean fewer staff are needed - but it's unlikely that will lead to lower rates.

It's bad news for politicians as more than 200 local councillors will be axed in the new set-up.

The seven councils - unveiled by Secretary of State Peter Hain this morning - will cause a political storm. One source said: "It's a balancing act to make sure nationalists and unionists are relatively equal.

"So three of the super-councils will have a nationalist majority and three will have a unionist majority.

"The seventh - an unchanged Belfast City Council - will remain evenly balanced."

Each council will have 50 councillors - a drop on the present 582 councillors.

But yesterday sources close to the Review of Public Administration, which is overseeing the changes, said cutting councils back to seven will lead to a "Balkanisation" of Ulster.

Dungannon's Sinn Fein Mayor Francie Molloy added there will be "an obvious split of three green councils, three orange and the Alliance Party holding the balance of power in Belfast".

A leading member of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) said: "You'll have nationalists trapped in unionist councils and unionists trapped in nationalist councils.

"They say there will be safeguards but it doesn't help with the building of trust that has been going on at local level for years. …