Abolishing town councils
More than 600 town councillors will see their roles disappear in the next local elections if the restructuring agenda published by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan goes ahead. So far, his proposals have been greeted by a deafening silence. It may represent political shock. That silence is likely to be broken when details of municipal boundaries and electoral maps are published next year. Already, there are stirrings of unrest.
A letter to this newspaper from Independent Killarney councillor Michael Gleeson complains the precise details of what is intended have not yet been made available. He raises questions about council funding and the proposed property tax. He argues that the development of Killarney has been due primarily to the work of the town council and its abolition will inhibit future progress.
Precise details concerning final structures may not be available. What is absolutely clear, however, is that all town councils will cease to exist. Existing town and county structures will merge, with urban areas receiving limited representation at “municipal governance” level. City and county councils will become municipal districts while three new regional assemblies will replace 10 regional authorities.
The declared motive behind the radical restructuring is to make local government more accountable and to “put people first”. However, cost cutting is a more obvious explanation. Local authorities are strapped for cash. Projected savings in a number of areas have been given special prominence by the Minister, who expects an overall reduction of up to €420 million in costs when the changes are fully implemented.
Details of new electoral boundaries are due to be published in January, soon after what is expected to be an extremely tough budget. In that climate, the electorate will have little sympathy for local politicians. Any empathy would be further eroded if proposals for the reform of council expenses and allowances were given prominence. Public debate is needed.