The Irish Times view on local government: Set our cities free

With increasing competition throughout Europe for inward investment and tourism, it is vital that all of our cities can stand up for themselves

The latest move in the game of boundary musical chairs involves a substantial boundary extension for Cork City Council, which will increase the population of its administrative area by 100,000. File image: Getty

The latest move in the game of boundary musical chairs involves a substantial boundary extension for Cork City Council, which will increase the population of its administrative area by 100,000. File image: Getty

 

Carving up or delineating new boundaries for local authorities in Ireland is exclusively the preserve of central government, which holds all the cards. That’s how we ended up with four councils in the historic county of Dublin, with nothing but informal contacts between them, or how nearly 80 towns were simply subsumed into their respective counties, as their town councils vanished with no trace. Such outcomes would be inconceivable in other European countries where local government is taken seriously and exercises real power.

The latest move in this game of musical chairs involves a substantial boundary extension for Cork City Council, which will increase the population of its administrative area by 100,000 and, at the same time, the abolition Galway City Council so that the city would be absorbed by its hinterland – just as Limerick and Waterford have been in recent years. Cork city was slated to suffer the same grim fate until wiser counsels prevailed, although the boundary extension now being granted doesn’t take in the entire metropolitan area, as it should have done.

If all of this sounds quite illogical, it’s because it is. With increasing competition throughout Europe for inward investment and tourism, it is vital that all of our cities can stand up for themselves. But they can’t really do that without their own local authorities or, in the case of Dublin, a directly-elected mayor with executive functions. The only crumb of comfort is that Cork city will not only survive as an quasi-independent entity, but will be permitted to grow larger, however much this is resented by the county that surrounds it.

If the Government is serious about local government reform, it should commission the Citizens’ Assembly or some other representative group to examine the issues in detail, including what has happened in other European countries, where there has been substantial transer of power to local government. Unfortunately, that isn’t even on the agenda in Ireland which is now the most centralised country in Europe. We have almost forgotten what real local government might mean.

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