TWO town councils in North Tipperary came out this week against the proposal by Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, to abolish the local authorites under his plan for local government reform.
Councillors in Templemore said the decision will be “like a chainsaw massacre”, leaving the town without any democratic voice.
They claimed it will leave Templemore swallowed up between the much bigger towns of Roscrea and Thurles, wiping out 150 years of local democracy with the stroke of a pen.
Cllr Valerie Young pointed to the Seanad as a body that could be scrapped to save money.
Cllr Jim O’Shea said there was “an awful lot of ambiguity” in the booklet outlining the proposed plans, Putting People First, and maintained they will disempower ordinary people and hand power into the hands of unelected officials.
He warned the plans will lead to “total anarchy. It’s a total shame, it’s totally disgusting. There was no consultation.”
Cllr Mick Connell said it was “pure crap. All the council managers will be chief executives,” and the The municipal bodies will be “glorified committees”.
Cllr Martin Fogarty said: “There is a serious chance we will not be represented”, while Cllr Michael Ryan said Tuesday, October 16, was a “sad day for democracy. Local government is being deformed, rather than reformed. This will be a chainsaw massacre.”
Cllr Joe Bourke said it was “strange” that the councils were being wiped completely. The councils don’t cost a lot: “Why not leave the councils, but pay the councillors nothing?”.
Town clerk Tom McGrath expressed doubts over new computer systems designed to bring local government closer to the people. The Town Council had been involved in accepting household charges, and later, the registration of septic tanks. However, the system crashed when over “480 tanks” came to be registered. “The computer failed in the middle of it all.”
All the moves toward decentralisation have suddenly been reversed, said Mr McGrath.
Commercial rates for Templemore - still some of the lowest in the country - would likely be revised upwards in line with county rates, and that’s before the amalgamation of the two Tipperary county councils goes ahead, warned Mr McGrath.
Cllr Ryan quoted a recent editorial in the Tipperary Star: “The system which is being introduced must be about more than fiscal matters – it must ensure that the public receive a service that is as good, and even better, than a structure which has, for the most part, served the people of the country well for over one hundred years.”
Meanwhile, Nenagh town councillors were also opposed to the proposals, vowing they would not give up “without a fight”.
The councillors said that they take needed to take their message to the people and that local councillors needed to protest outside Leinster House.
The general mood at Monday’s meeting was that the town authority was the first point of call for many people and encouraged community activists to get involved in politics.
The plan to create municipal authorities was condemned as “a disgrace”, with councillors being “dismayed” at the proposals.
“We are the cheapest form of democracy and we are to be taken out with the strike of a pen,” said Sinn Fein’s Cllr Seamus Morris, calling for a united front to lobby TDs before the proposals go before the Dail for ratification.
Independent Cllr Hughie McGrath accused Minister Hogan of “removing community policies from the community”, and said the Government was taking power and “giving nothing back”.
He said they needed to “talk to the public and inform them what is coming down the road”.
Mayor Lalor Magee, while agreeing that reform was needed, said the Minister had “come with a hatchet”.
Labour’s Cllr Virginia O’Dowd maintained that their only input into the proposals was a questionnaire sent around earlier this year, but revealed that councillors had not been told of its contents.
Calling for its results to be released, she stated: “It looks like the Minister ignored the questionnaire unless other councillors gave different answers to what we gave”.
She also urged that the council talk to the public about what was happening and the work the council did.
However, Cllr Tom Moylan, FG, who said he still gave the proposals a “guarded welcome”, dismissed the survey as a “box-ticking exercise” to allow Minister Hogan say he had consulted councillors.
Cllr Tom Mulqueen agreed with getting the public involved and described the proposal as a “disgrace”. His fellow party member Tommy Morgan was “dismayed” by the move and called for a referendum on the proposals.