Former Nenagh town councilllors have criticised comments by the Minister for Public Expenditure that it was a mistake to abolish town councils.
The councils, including eight in Tipperary, were removed under local government reform spearheaded by then Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan. At last weekend’s Labour conference, Minister Brendan Howlin said the decision should be reversed and Labour should include it in its election manifesto.
He was backed somewhat by local Minister Alan Kelly, who said at conference that he was working at measures to rectify the situation but could not promise “the world”.
“It is two years too late,” said Lalor McGee, former Nenagh Mayor. “Councillors were not listened to. The AIMI was not listened to. It is a huge mess.”
He said nobody had shouted stop.
Mr McGee pointed out that councillors had left a legacy that included the new town park, bringing natural gas to Nenagh, Visit Nenagh Cycle Classic, dog fouling laws, the Silent Film Festival, sports tourism, road and footpath resurfacing and CCTV.
He pointed out that to bring back council staff who lost their jobs under abolition would mean they could come back on less-paid contracts.
“It would need a lot of planning,” he said. “Getting rid of town council definitely didn’t save money. I received E70 per fortnight after tax.”
Fellow former councillor and mayor Virginia O’Dowd said she was not surprised by the comments.
“I am delighted they have recognised the loss of town councils. It was the first port of call for the public and the town council served this purpose very well. People knew their councillors. Councillors were aware of local issues and how best to respond. They were non-political, unlike the county council. The town councillors worked for the benefit of the town and the community benefitted greatly. In Nenagh we had the nearest thing to a directly elected mayor as each was decided by the people’s voting choices. And each mayor contributed to the town through the mayoral fund,” she said.
Ms O’Dowd echoed Mr McGee’s comments about councillors not being listened to. “It is a pity Minister Howlin and our locally elected representatives did not listen. They insisted abolition was the way to go. They abolished town councils at the stroke of a pen and I am calling for them to be brought back at the stroke of a pen,” she said.
One former councillor who did not wish to be named said: “Everybody knew there had to be reform but abolition was not reform. Bringing them back is a non-runner.”
The former representative said some reform was still needed, such as revenue raising powers which needed to be given to municipal district councils. They also said that money raised in each area should be spent in that area.
The former councillor said that the the MDCs could only work if membership was increased to 12, saying Nenagh town itself needed at least four councillors.
Meanwhile, Cllr Seamus Morris said abolition was the biggest attack on local democracy ever foisted on the people of Ireland.