Local Government Bill 2013

PaulConnaughton-2-150x150

Dáil Éireann 22 October 2013

 

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

 

When the structures for Local Government in Ireland were established in the closing years of the 19th century, few could have envisaged the change that would be wrought in the next century and I believe that the Bill currently before the house establishes a local government model that is fit for purpose in 21st century Ireland.

 

Huge leaps forward in terms of travel and transport, communications and community have meant that these changes must be reflected in local government structures.  This Bill tackles both the changes necessary in territorial structures and the institutions of local government.

 

Good government is lean government and I believe that this Bill seeks to create a much leaner and more streamlined system of local government.  Of course creating a leaner local government structure cannot be done without causing a significant measure of difficulty for those enmeshed in the current structure, but I do believe that the current piece of legislation will reap financial rewards in years to come in terms of a reduced cost of local government and an increased focus of the local government spend on where it is needed most.

 

However, I would sound a note of caution in terms of the difference between streamlining the system, which I welcome, and reducing representation, which I do not welcome.  A substantial part of the savings arising from this Bill arise from the abolition of Urban District Councils and Town Councils but it must be remembered that over the course of many years, these Councils have provided a valuable local voice all across the country.  They have initiated many valuable measures and provided a voice for urban residents that simply would not have been heard otherwise.  The fact that these urban councils provided a forum for the voicing of local grievances was also reflected in the remit of County Councils and the issues raised, which often were of a more regional nature.

 

Prior to the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, these urban and town councils were operated on a shoestring budget and I believe that it was the increased running costs amassed during the boom years that eventually led to their downfall as the cost could no longer be justified in the current economic climate as cuts had to be made to every conceivable area of expenditure, including to the cost of politicians at local and national level.  However, had the very low pre-boom costs been maintained, I believe that a much better case could have been made for the retention of Town and Urban Councils.

 

The same applies to County Councils and the huge reduction in the number of Councillors which this Bill will result in from 1,627 to 949, which largely reflects the abolition of the Urban and Town Council regimes.  Of course there are other provisions in the Bill, which I welcome, including the provision to bring both Tipperary County Councils under the one umbrella, which will no doubt save on the expense of duplicated offices such as human resources.

 

The change in the role of the County Manager will, I hope, result in a reduction of the tension that has bedevilled many county councils across the country for many years in terms of clashes between the non-elected executive and the elected local representatives.  I also welcome the introduction of the National Oversight and Audit Commission, which I believe is a common sense measure aimed at ensuring that money is spent wisely, but I would hope that the burden in terms of bureaucracy that this places on County Councils is not too great as if so, it would be counter-productive.

 

By improving the equality of representation throughout the country, this Bill will play an important part in creating a more effective and representative local government. However, there is no point having a vibrant and robust local government system if power is not devolved to more local level.  I believe that much work remains to be done in terms of devolving power to local level in Ireland and we have much to learn from our counterparts in continental Europe in this respect.

 

This Bill is an important step in terms of putting the structures in place which will allow us to plan towards the devolving of further powers to local government in the years to come and I believe that this will result in a streamlined service which is suitable for the delivery of the necessary services in 21st century Ireland.