Flynn to quit politics over council reform
Westport Cllr says proposals are 'pie in the sky'
ONCE tipped as a future Dáil deputy, Westport Fine Gael councillor Peter Flynn has announced he is walking away from politics in frustration at national plans to rationalise the local government system.
The Mayo News can reveal that Flynn, who works as a financial executive with Allergan Pharmaceuticals, has confirmed he will not put his name forward at the upcoming Fine Gael convention, as he cannot accept Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan’s plans to reform local government, as set out in the Local Government Bill published earlier this month.
It is the scrapping of town councils – and in particular the highly acclaimed Westport Town Council – that rankles most with Cllr Flynn, who now describes his decision not to seek re-election to Westport Town Council in 2009 as a ‘huge mistake’. At the time Flynn instead chose to run for a seat on Mayo County Council – which he achieved.
In an email sent to Minister Hogan last Thursday (October 24), and seen by The Mayo News, the Westport-native wrote that while he was ‘not naïve enough’ to think that any correspondence he has with the minister would change his mind about the overall bill, he urged Mr Hogan to consider four amendments which would ‘retain the parts of Local Government which actually work today’.
County council regret
In an earlier correspondence (email October 10), Cllr Flynn has also told the minister that he regretted ever leaving his position as a councillor on Westport town council – where he felt representatives were effective, productive and worked together for the good of their town – to join Mayo County Council, which he believes is an ‘organisation in chaos’.
“I now know I made a huge mistake in 2009 by not allowing my name go forward for the town council elections and after nearly five futile years in Mayo County Council, I can say with certainty that it is an organisation in chaos and without a future,” he stated. Cllr Flynn also revealed to The Mayo News that: “Six months after joining Mayo County Council in 2009, it became clear to me that most people were simply there to clock in the hours and it was a farce, with councillors quickly becoming institutionalised.”
In the recent past, Cllr Flynn has provoked ire from within the ranks of his own Fine Gael party over his outspoken criticism of minister Hogan, but he told The Mayo News at the weekend that the alleged cost-savings proposed by Minister Hogan were ‘pie in the sky’. He added that he had met with Mr Peter Hynes, the County Manager, and that they estimated a saving of less than €100,000 would be achieved by the subsuming of the town councils.
This saving, however, would be undone, he said, by extra travel expenses for councillors travelling to meetings from rural areas in the new west Mayo constituency – geographically, one of the largest in Ireland.
“I am currently not a town councillor, but did have the honour of representing Westport in the past for ten years, and I can say without hesitation that it provides a form of democracy that allows locals a certain amount of control over their destiny and to manage their affairs.
“It is far from perfect and certainly needs reform, but to eliminate them completely is contrary to the concept of subsidiarity, the National Spatial Strategy, commonsense and is the antithesis of your title [for the reform] ‘Putting People First,’” Cllr Flynn wrote to Minister Hogan.
Mr Flynn said: “I felt fulfilled and productive as a town councillor and went forward to the county council to try to address a bigger forum about the erosion of powers at the town council level.
AMONG Peter Flynn’s key proposals are that every town with a population of 1,000 people would directly elect a Mayor or Cathaoirelach who would sit on the Municipal District Council and have the same voting rights as councillors.
“[This] would ensure towns would have a person representing them who is known by all … who is passionate about his/her town, understands the history/culture of the town and will represent their town with pride.”
Flynn also proposed that the Municipal District Council would be responsible for setting its own rates and property taxes and ‘all monies raised … would be spent locally’. This, he urged, could be implemented in the same manner as Service Level Agreements for the county councils for the management of sanitary services for Irish Water, and would thus ensure transparency and cost-effectiveness.
He also proposed that each Municipal District Council have its own Development Plan and be ‘fully responsible’ for its approval.
“We have seen in recent times how the indiscriminate zoning of development around the country has played a major role in the demise of the Irish economy. It is no coincidence that many of the towns which were destroyed over the last 10-15 years had no town council with decisions made by councillors who had no association with the town,” he notes.
In his final proposed amendment, Peter Flynn calls for the introduction of ‘a transparent remuneration system’ for all councillors salaries and allowances, with a vouched expense system.
Cllr Flynn also highlights the fact that Minister Hogan’s reform programme stipulates over 4,000 people per councillor, which, he argues, is ‘one of the highest ratios in the world’ and out of kilter with European countries that have proven local government structures.
He also reminded Minister Hogan that he is a county councillor, and not a town councillor, so therefore his plea could not be based on ‘self-protection’.