Can we get by without our friendly local town councillors?
It’s obvious they all care about the community. Cllr John Lawler points out they get €3,400 before tax, a very modest stipend given the hours they put in. And you sense that all of them would do it for free.
The debate on Hogan’s plan is fascinating because all nine councillors are sanguine about it. That may be because Kildare is one of the few counties where the number of county councillors is increasing (from 25 to 40). Wall and Fine Gael’s Richard Daly are full county councillors.
The increase in numbers means others will contest the next election and as many as five of the nine could escape the cull. Most other counties are not so lucky. They are losing councillors, leaving no escape hatch for the lowly town councillors. That’s why the anger in Athy seems very muted. And that’s also why there is so much anger elsewhere.
Redmond outlines at the meeting a defence of town councils that’s widely shared by his colleagues. “It’s about representation and democratic accountability, and delivering the services as close to the ground as possible,” he argues. “For all its faults, when people had issues they knew whom to go to. One of the strengths is that people know their elected representatives.”
Cllr Aoife Breslin says it is that familiar sense that characterises town councils: “We live and work in the community. The people come to your doorstep and expect you to represent the people in your own area.”
Unsure of the shape of the new municipal districts, the councillors can only hope that they don’t lose too much of what makes town councils so valuable for all their lack of power: their intimacy, their immediacy, democracy in action at the most micro level.
“We have to fight and be local as we always do,” is Wall’s battle-cry for facing into the deluge.