Local Government And Planning

 

A chara, - I am compelled to put pen to paper in defence of local government and the integrity of its elected officials in the light of Kevin Myers's call to abolish local government in favour of central government, (An Irishman's Diary, October 3rd).

His arguments in favour of such a radical change are: firstly, that land is being rezoned for housing convenient to Dublin; and secondly, an unsubstantiated rumour of a friend approached by county councillors seeking a bribe! Apart from the fact that this story rings extremely hollow, if there is a grain of truth in it, then the obligation on Kevin Myers and his "friend" is to report it to the planning tribunal. Although I take no pleasure in it, to date all substantiated allegations of payments to politicians have concerned members of central government, not local officials.

The "frenzy of construction and development" which offends Mr Myers is not caused by corrupt county councillors. It is caused by a demand for housing, due to the present strong economy in the hands of good government. The demand is greater near Dublin where there is most employment, which is partly due to centralised government. Irish people have a long and cherished record of home ownership; it is not superimposed on them. There is a national dilemma at present with house prices soaring out of the range of those outside the house ownership bracket. The cries that are heard the loudest are for rezoning of land for development to ease the pressure on land prices for existing development land. Development is piecemeal because the present economic performance is, as is widely accepted, unprecedented (and thus difficult to plan for).

Mr Myers resorts to name-calling and innuendo rather than addressing facts. In local government, we have the local elected officials (county councillors) who have certain functions, and the civil service officials/paid employees of the county manager who deal with all planning applications. As a politician, I do not deny that a county councillor will make representations on behalf of his constituent, but there is little scope for corruption as the final say is with the county manager. A function of the elected officials is drawing up the development plan and rezoning lands. This is done publicly where all interested bodies are advised and invited to make submissions and the plan proposals and rezoning maps are displayed and open to the public for comment. It is not done "by back-door deals and knowing winks" but is entirely transparent as is required in a democracy like ours in which we serve the needs of the majority of our people.

To Mr Myers, any business done outside Dublin (the hallowed capital) is conducted Gombeen fashion by the greedy, gormless, incompetent fools and idiots, which is how he describes the elected officials of local government. Mr Myers prefers to be manipulated by the city's clever rogues of central government, and that is his democratic right. Those of us outside Dublin also have the democratic right to decide local issues. It is Mr Myers who stretches credibility when he describes the growing communities of Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and Dublin as politically dispensable. Perhaps it would not be so outrageous if he so described Donegal, but as we are beyond the Pale we are unworthy of his attentions.

What Kevin Myers objects to is democracy itself, serving the majority of the Irish people rather than the elite few. We are losing our picturesque, sleepy suburbs, but this is the price to be paid for the economic growth which the vast majority of Irish people want. Should we keep rural Ireland sleepy and adhere to the caricature of the sraidbailes for Mr Myers' rare forays outside Dublin 4? - Yours, etc., Hugh Conaghan,

(Donegal County Councillor),

Monfad,

Newtowncunningham,

Co Donegal.