FF members concerned new proposals will erode councils

 

FIANNA FÁIL TDs and Senators have voiced concern that proposals for fundamental reform of local government may be too radical and may further erode the powers of local government.

A White Paper on local government reform is due to be published by Minister for the Environment John Gormley before Easter. It will set out the policies and targets for local government.

An earlier draft from 2008 has suggested more powerful regional authorities that would take over some of the tasks and functions of county councils, city councils and town councils. While it is not expected that any of the 34 local authorities will be abolished, the White Paper may also recommend some radical changes.

These may include new means of funding local authorities; more directly-elected mayors with executive powers; increased emphasis on regional gateways and on the National Spatial Strategy; and more focus on economies of scale for services.

However, the complex policy document cannot be completed until both Government parties have formulated their approach and put forward recommendations.

At last night’s meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, the senior Coalition party began its own debate on the issue.

An internal party committee, led by four Ministers – Noel Dempsey, Batt O’Keeffe, Pat Carey and Eamon O Cuív – will co-ordinate the party’s views on reform and submit them to Government and to Mr Gormley.

Speaking after the meeting last night, Mr Carey said some concern had been expressed about the new proposed structures, including regional authorities. He said 14 members had spoken, some of whom had expressed concern about the powers of existing town councils and county councils being eroded.

According to several people who attended the meeting, the speakers who were most critical of major changes tended to be Senators, who rely on councillors for support in Seanad elections.

Mr Carey said two of the other themes to the fore were the issues of funding local government as well as a call for rebalancing of powers between elected members and local authority managers.

John Cregan, a Limerick West deputy, said last night that most speakers said they were in favour of “bottom-up” reform beginning with towns and communities, rather than taking powerful regional authorities as a starting point.