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Questions raised by Westport parking-charges debacle

De Facto

De Facto
Liamy MacNally

“Oh no you didn’t! Oh yes you did! Oh no…” The pantomime continues. Another variation of “I stepped out and you stepped in again.” This would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. What changed that parking charges were introduced?
Why did some councillors do an about-face in such a short time? Some people claim a lack of choice in the circumstances. Others say the introduction of parking charges enabled other monies to be released for local voluntary organisations.

Role play
Defining the roles of councillors and county executive needs to be restated. Councillors are elected while the county executive (the administrative body of the council) is appointed. Both have certain functions, meaning they have the sole right to make a decision on certain issues. Councillors have reserved functions – and make decisions by resolution as an elected body.
These decisions, as explained on one local authority website, include: “Adopting the annual estimate of expenses and striking the rate; borrowing money; making or varying a development plan; making, amending or revoking bye-laws; nominating persons to act on committees or other public bodies; demanding expenses from any other local authority; the adoption of house-building programmes; adopting a scheme of letting priorities, and the myriad of legislative variations associated with these decisions.”  
The County Council has executive functions. These “executive functions (those performed by the manager by order) include decisions in relation to staff, acceptance of tenders, making contracts, fixing rents, making lettings, and decisions on applications for planning permissions, outline permissions or approvals. Executive functions are, in fact, defined as all of the functions of the local authority except those which are, in fact, defined as reserved functions. The County Manager, even in the performance of executive functions, operates under the general supervision of the elected members.”
Sometimes there appears to be a fog over who makes what decisions in Mayo County Council. Westport parking charges is a case in point. There are unanswered questions in this whole debacle.

Authority and governance
This in turn raises questions about how or why some councillors changed their minds on the parking issue and supported Mayo County Council. Were there promises or pressure, or a combination of both?
The councillors’ ‘change of heart’ centres around the allocation of the General Municipal Allocation – this is taxpayers’ money that councillors allocate to local voluntary groups like organisers of festivals, events, supports and services. The GMA allocated depends on the money raised by a council. The council executive refused to issue almost 45 percent of this money to the West Area councillors until sufficient ‘budget’ monies were raised. Introducing parking charges was how the council executive proposed to make up for the shortfall.
This raises other questions: Has the council executive the authority to withhold councillors’ GMA money? Why link the GMA with parking charges? Where are the savings following the abolition of town councils? Why is central government decreasing local authority subventions? Following agreement to introduce parking charges, it emerged that some of the GMA had already been spent. If the GMA is for councillors how can the council executive spend it? The money is being repaid, but there is still a governance issue: It is taxpayers’ money.
Too often the easy solution is adopted, locally, nationally and under the EU – tax the citizens. Just like the Irish Government and the bank bailout – introduce a property tax (with no services provided) for the banks’ benefit. It’s like the EU and Ireland – force a bank bailout to ‘support’ their financial buddies in trouble. It’s back to the basic question – when do you shout stop? When is the line of demarcation being crossed?   
And who can defend parking charges at the Quay from the get-go? Do businesses not pay the same commercial rates out the Quay? Is this fair to the Quay community? It’s time to bring back Town Councils and proper local government, seriously.