Cabinet ‘telephone’ meeting cancelled at last minute
Labour objects to local government legislation and says it is not of an emergency nature
Phil Hogan: announced his plans for reform of local councils last year
An almost unprecedented “incorporeal” meeting of Cabinet to approve the Local Government Reform Bill was abandoned at the last minute last Friday after Labour Ministers raised objections about its rushed nature and the legislation itself.
The unscheduled meeting of Government Ministers incorporeally (by telephone) was arranged by Fine Gael to accommodate the approval of the Bill prepared by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan that will result in the abolition of all 80 town councils and a reduction of over a third in the number of councillors in the State.
Labour sources said the party was mystified as to why the Cabinet would need to convene outside the weekly Tuesday meeting for legislation that was not of an emergency nature.
Anglo Irish Bank
The previous government held incorporeal meetings to approve the bank guarantee and to nationalise Anglo Irish Bank. The only occasion it has been used by this Government was a late-night telephone conference call of Ministers in July when Paschal Donohoe was appointed a Minister of State to replace Lucinda Creighton after she lost the Fine Gael whip.
Fine Gael did not explain to Labour colleagues why it was seeking an incorporeal meeting but it is thought it was connected to the party’s campaign to seek an abolition of Seanad Éireann in Friday’s referendum. The publication of the legislation would allow Fine Gael demonstrate that the Government’s local government reforms were under way and would help counterbalance the influence of a single chamber parliament.
A Labour source said: “We did not think it was appropriate to hold an incorporeal meeting of Cabinet for legislation that was clearly not of an emergency nature.
“Secondly, the Bill has 65 to 70 sections and it was our view that refinement was needed in the Bill.”
The legislation is now expected to come back before Cabinet in several weeks’ time after the referendum has been held. A spokesman for the Department of the Environment said the details of the Bill were still being finalised.
Mr Hogan announced his plans for reform of the State’s local councils last year. The core of the proposal was the abolition of all 80 town councils. One of the reasons was that the status of some had become anomalous – urban centres that had grown significantly in recent decades had no town councils while some which had diminished in size had retained that status.