Northern Ireland is to lose two of its local education authorities in the most radical administrative shake-up in the province for 25 years, writes Noel McAdam.
The Government said replacing the present five area boards with three will save Pounds 2 million a year. But educationists and trade unions expressed shock and outrage over the move, which comes just over a year after a decision on reducing the boards to four was deferred.
The Greater Belfast area board and the Western board - the largest in the province - will effectively disappear. Belfast becomes part of a new larger authority, the Eastern board.
A new Northern board will cover from Londonderry in the North West tip of the province to Antrim and Larne in the east and the revamped Southern board will be stretched to include Omagh and Fermanagh.
The three new boards will each have 50 members, reduced by 22 from their present number. There are fears that the churches could lose part of their historic representation. District council membership is to increase from 40 per cent to 48 per cent.
Joe Martin, chief executive of the Western board, said the decision "appears to fly in the face of all the evidence and arguments. It just doesn't make sense to go through all this to effect those kind of savings."
Education Minister Michael Ancram said change was inevitable since schools are now in control of their own budgets and the area boards are also due to lose control over further education colleges.