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Local representation lost if town councils abolished Inchydoney conference told

Saturday, 21st September, 2013 10:30am
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Local representation lost if town councils abolished Inchydoney conference told

Attending the Association of Municipal Authorities

Attending the Association of Municipal Authorities


‘IT IS beyond my comprehension that come next May, the towns of this country will no longer have local representation, that democracy is being sacrificed for some unattainable belief that it is a better system, which of course it is not,’ said Mayor of Clonakilty Phil O’Regan at the opening of the 101st and final conference in its present make-up of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland at Inchydoney Lodge and Spa last week.

She was referring to the proposal under the government’s ‘Putting People First’ policy to abolish all 82 town councils (12 in County Cork) and replace these with municipal district councils (MDCs) in 2014.

‘I am delighted the AMAI is here but I am saddened beyond all words that it is the last time we will ever have the opportunity to welcome delegates from town councils because if the proposal goes ahead, we will not have local representation,

‘I don’t know how many delegates have read the strategy document that is supposed to represent the new order and therefore I suspect many are not aware that from effect on January 1st, in fact, town councils (former UDCs) will lose their planning and housing functions and leading up to July 1st a lot more will be transferred,’ said Cllr O’Regan.

‘The constitution of this country guarantees the democratic principle of government of the people, for the people, by the people and it has been established in many areas of the world that the greatest degree of democracy is at the lowest tier.’

Noting that most delegates were members of political parties, she urged them to use their influence with their TDs, government ministers and aspiring ministers. She said she couldn’t understand why there hadn‘t been more pressure from the AMAI and its member bodies on the government to look again at the entire strategy of an across the board abolition of town councils.

The mayor said it was atrocious to suggest there had up to now been a lack of transparency and argued that the structures being created wouldn’t be answerable at all. There was no one who could point to any lack of transparency or impropriety by the vast majority of such bodies over many decades of excellent service with very limited budgets.

While the strategy document says there will delegated powers, in reality, these amounted to smoke and mirrors. MDCs will be almost powerless with just a few shillings allocated on town twinnings, conferences, entertainment or potholes and not much else. Furthermore, the Mayor of Clonakilty claimed, if councillors in the new West Cork MDC came to a certain decision on a matter of key concern to the area, that wasn't in agreement with the belief of management and other MDCs in the county, they could be overridden.

Having welcomed delegates to what she described as ‘a wonderful place and a ‘can-do’ town that this year commemorated 400 years of being an independent local authority, the mayor said it was it was imperative for every delegate – and indeed, the people they served – to read the strategy document and from that seek to do something about it.

Delegates were formally welcomed by secretary Tom Ryan and president of the AMAI, Willy Callaghan, Naas, who paid tribute to the mayor, Cllr Cionnaith O Suilleabhain, town clerk Justin England (assisted by Hazel Mruphy) and others in Clonakilty and the hotel for the excellent hosting and organising of the conference.

Cllr Callaghan said the AMAI had come a long way through negotiations with the government on ‘Putting People First’ but the one major issue to be resolved was the financial implications. He urged each councillor to raise the issue with their local TDs because the money had to be in place for the new bodies to carry out functions.

He added that it was intended to build a bigger and stronger AMAI after the 2014 local elections.

One of the guest speakers at the conference, Barry Cowen TD, Fianna Fáil spokesperson on the environment and local government and brother of former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, said: ‘The government’s proposals on local government reform are extremely vague. When Minister Hogan published "Putting People First" last October, I described it as a wasted opportunity. It is actually a cynical exercise in cost-cutting that will do nothing to enhance local democracy and empower communities.

‘We have not seen proposals for real powers to be decentralised in line with European norms. Instead, we have the weakest local government in the western world with severely limited powers and deeply restricted fiscal independence. Now is the time for all political parties to pursue real change that reaches from the corridors of cabinet power to the community hall.

‘Our vision for the future of local democracy is a new community council model fairly distributed across the country that will bring government closer to the citizen. We want to empower communities and give them a real say in planning issues and the ability to tackle local concerns. We believe greater leadership through directly elected mayors replacing managers has the potential to take the initiative and cut through the bureaucratic problems that plague administration and prioritise new ideas in shaping our communities. Councils need real power over where money is spent and competitive funding pots where local groups can apply for central funds,’ said Deputy Cowen.

‘What I think a lot of people across the country want to see is a more flexible, responsive local government system that provides value for money. Ensuring we have a structure that supports businesses, promotes job creation and really delivers for communities is achievable if the political system has the vision and the will to see it through,’ he added.

Over 200 delegates attended the AMAI conference, which began with prayers from Rev Daniel Owens. The two-day programme included three sessions with guest speakers and debate, election of officers, a banquet (speaker Minister Simon Coveney TD), golf at Lisselan and visits to the West Cork Model Village and Michael Collins Centre, all of which boosted the local economy. Sadly, there was no appearance by Minister for Local Government Phil Hogan in this the most crucial year for local government and this was remarked upon by several delegates.