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Councillors against local government reforms

Councillors against local government reforms

Edwin McGreal


Over half of the town and county councillors in Mayo have come down against the new proposals for local government reform, released last Tuesday.
In a poll of every town and county councillor in Mayo, 27 of the 52 councillors said they were against the proposals.
Seven councillors remain undecided until they get a clearer indication of the specifics of the changes with eighteen in favour of the proposals.
In our survey on the right hand side of this page we asked every town and county councillor in Mayo two questions: were they in favour of the reforms and were they intending to run.
When it came to the first question there was a lot of uncertainty in the answers and it is easy to see why. The town councils are gone, that much is certain, but how the new municipal districts will function remains unclear.
However a lot of councillors are furious about the abolition of the town councils. Included in that are many Fine Gael councillors critical of their own government’s moves.
Castlebar-based town and county councillor, Eugene McCormack (FG) outlined how much he felt the town councils have benefitted the locality.
“If you look at the Town Park in Castlebar, the Lough Lannagh Riverwalk and the town centre redevelopment, these projects all came into being because the town council was driving them,” he told The Mayo News. “Westport has won more accolades than you could shake a stick at and the town council has driven that.  The town councils have expanded their roles into community leaders. Towns will be poorer without town councils.” Cllr Blackie Gavin (FF), who holds the same dual mandate in Castlebar as Eugene McCormack, describes the abolition of the town councils as ‘a pure disaster’.
“If you see what has been done by the town council over the last 30 years in Castlebar, there’s your argument for local government. I’m on Mayo County Council since 2009 and it is very hard to get anything done on the county council compared to the town council,” he said.
Charlestown-based Cllr Gerry Murray (SF) said the government were taking the wrong approach.
“What we really need to be focusing on is not the structure of our Local Government, but the lack of resources they currently have. Since the introduction of the recruitment embargo, services have slowly dwindled and in some places have grinded to a halt altogether. I would have been delighted if Phil Hogan had said he was cutting 1,000 councillors across the country but was allocating an extra 500 outdoor staff to do the basic work which a council is supposed to do. His announcement is basically reform for the sake of it,” he said.
Cllr Henry Kenny, a brother of the Taoiseach, said that while the government were right to seek value, he questioned how many cuts the local authorities could endure and still function.
Cllr Patsy O’Brien (FG) said the future was far from certain.
“There is a huge amount of uncertainty out there at present and I don’t know how anyone could commit themselves to running in the local elections in 2014 until they see exactly what’s in front of them. We have just upgraded seven areas offices in this county to a very high standard and we need to make sure these offices continue to be used and people are not continually discommoded,” he said.
However a number of councillors said that cutting the number of councillors in Mayo by almost half was no bad thing.
“I know I won’t win any friends in Westport, Castlebar or Ballina for saying it but I think we can get by without the town councils. There are a lot of other towns in Mayo that need investment and this reform may lead to a levelling of the playing field over the next decade,” said Ballyhaunis-based Cllr John Cribbin (FG).
Three Castlebar town councillors agree. Cllr Noreen Heston (FG) welcomed the cuts in the number of councillors and tighter rules with regard to councillors expenses while Cllr Frank Durcan agreed with the principal of reform.
“It is crazy to have over 60 public representatives in Mayo. We’re not Chicago or New York. Twenty-five councillors would be more than ample for the county but these cuts have to be carried out in the right way,” said Cllr Durcan.
Labour Party and Castlebar town councillor Harry Barrett also said ‘we have too many politicians in this county’.
“The amount of times when I’m asked to do something for someone, take for instance look at their planning file, and I go into the council and in that file I will see letters from two TDs, four or five councillors … there’s huge overlap and that’s a huge drain on council staff and on councillors and TDs time too. Let the TDs do national work and let the councillors worry about local stuff. Let them legislate and let us worry about the footpaths and the lights,” he said.
However his Labour Party colleague in Westport Town Council, Cllr Keith Martin, was definitely not in agreement.
He described the reforms as a ‘betrayal’ by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore and said it will have a huge impact on smaller parties. “This will have a real impact on the small parties and will remove the Independents and Independent minded councillors from the system.
“This [reform of system] is a joke and the biggest hoodwink in decades and I am embarrassed the Labour Party are supporting it.”
Independent Ballina town and county councillor Gerry Ginty said there were other ways savings could be made.
“They’re doing away with the first step on the ladder in local democracy, one which is easier for people to put their name forward for. If the government want to make savings, they can do away with the expenses and salaries that are involved. Last year Mayo County Council paid out €3.2 million in expenses to council officials. councillors in Mayo took €1 million in expenses in 2011, add them together and multiply by the number of county councils and you are talking about over €120 million in savings.”

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