So much for devolution as regional hubs see power and financial clout evaporate

Regional cities are crucial to prosperity and cannot be left to fend for themselves

Mon, Mar 3, 2014, 01:00

Nobody quite knows what will happen in June to all the mayoral chains, maces, scrolls and other civic paraphernalia of the city and town councils due to be abolished under local government reforms. But knowing the fondness of councillors for chains of office, no doubt some use will be found for them.

Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny and Sligo – the four “cities in transition” from our series in The Irish Times – will lose their city councils, some of which can trace their roots back to medieval times. Also due to go are 80 town councils, from Athy to Youghal, and some 670 town councillors of all political hues and none.

Instead, the county councils will form municipal committees covering towns and their hinterlands that will meet in the old town halls – for the sake of appearances. However, unlike the corporations and borough councils of old, these committees will not be corporate entities; the county councils will rule the roost.

Not so Cork or Galway, which retain independent city councils, or Dublin, which will continue to be split between the city council and the Fingal, South Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils; there was no question of amalgamating them because of the unwieldy scale of a single metropolitan council.

The Limerick and Waterford mergers will only partially overcome boundary issues. Thus, areas such as Cratloe and Parteen in Co Clare – clearly outliers of Limerick city – will remain under the control of Clare County Council, while much of the suburbs of Waterford north of the river Suir will stay in Co Kilkenny.

Each of the four cities featured in our series has responded in different ways to the new dispensation – Limerick by drawing up an ambitious economic and spatial plan, Waterford by falling back on rich heritage, Kilkenny by banking on a new future for the Smithwicks site and Sligo by seeking ways to reduce its debts.

The long-established north and south ridings of Co Tipperary are also being merged to create a single county council, even though they have nothing in common apart from GAA. They are not even in the same regions – North Tipperary has long been in the midwest while South Tipperary is part of the southeast.

A long way round Tipperary
“Travel in Tipperary from north to south is difficult,” as former Cork city planning officer John O’Donnell has noted. “By public transport, journey times from Borrisokane to Clonmel or Carrick-on-Suir to Nenagh are over three hours.”

Yet he found no evidence that the reorganisation took any account of this difficulty.

An implementation group consisting of the two former county managers and two high officials of central government set up to oversee the reorganisation could not even agree on a single “capital” for the merged county. Instead, it said both Clonmel and Nenagh “should be retained with headquarter status”.

Co Tipperary will lose one borough council (Clonmel) and six town councils (Cahir, Cashel, Nenagh, Templemore, Thurles and Tipperary).

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