Councillors asked for ideas on reform

Fri, Jun 8, 2012, 01:00

THE MINISTER for the Environment is contacting every councillor in the State to ask whether they think their expenses should be reformed and whether they should be barred from involvement in zoning decisions.

A questionnaire on local government reform sent to all 1,627 councillors also asks for proposals on broadening local authorities’ income base, citing the introduction of a local residential property tax as an example.

Phil Hogan is developing a package of reform proposals for local government which he intends to submit to Government for a decision before the summer recess. Councillors have one week to respond to his 14 questions.

“While the reform proposals will build on the existing strengths of local government, they may represent a radical approach in some respects where this is deemed necessary,” he said in a letter.

Mr Hogan’s survey asks councillors: “Do you believe that the remuneration and expenses (including attendance at conferences) for local authority elected members need to be reformed?”

Councillors are invited to tick a box marked “Yes” or “No” and are given space to explain their answers. It also asks: “Do you believe that local authority elected members should be precluded from involvement in decisions in relation to the zoning of land?”

The final report of the Mahon planning tribunal, published in March, found corruption affected every level of government from cabinet ministers to local councillors.

Councillors are also asked what measures they think should be taken to enhance the responsibility and accountability of local authority elected members.

They are asked if they believe there should be a provision for a directly elected cathaoirleach (chairman or mayor) at local authority level and if the position of city or county manager should be replaced by that of chief executive, “with a limited range of executive functions, primarily to facilitate the implementation of democratically decided policy”.

Councillors are also asked whether they believe more needs to be done to encourage more women to stand as candidates in local authority elections.

Councillors do not have to identify themselves in their replies but may do so if they wish. Mr Hogan’s reforms are to be implemented before the 2014 local elections.

In a preamble, Mr Hogan outlined measures to reform local government already under way. He said local authorities in Limerick city and county and in north and south Tipperary were being merged.

An independent committee has also examined the case for a unified authority for Waterford city and county, and its report will be considered by the Government shortly, he said.