AN exhibition has been running at Cork County Hall for the past week to mark the 120th anniversary of the current system of local government in Ireland. Back then, it was ground-breaking in that the Local Government (Ireland) Act, 1898 gave women the right to vote in elections and become candidates here for the first time.
After the first local government elections in 1899, Cork County Council came into being and, with it, nine urban councils and three town commissioners across the county, which subsequently became town councils before being ruthlessly abolished on spurious grounds by then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Phil Hogan in 2014. By then, however, they had been so starved of money and real power that they could not operate with any significant autonomy.
Even the county councils of today still have to go cap in hand to central government for capital funding for the core activities that they have traditionally been associated with, such as housing and roads as well as an efficient fire service – with water and sewage services being moved to Irish Water. There is a move towards economic activities in the enterprise and tourism sectors, but most people would prefer if the councils were more effective in providing social housing and looking after their road networks.
One of the under-appreciated sections of Cork County Council is its Library Service, which has embraced the arts and thoroughly re-invented itself and its range of services in recent years. It was good to note the Right to Read Champion Award it received last month in recognition of its ongoing efforts to support literacy development.