CLONMEL may be the the County Town, but Nenagh may be set to become the new seat of government in County Tipperary following the merger of the two County Councils, while even the Town Councils are in danger of being abolished, the Tipperary Star has learned this week.
Environment Minister Phil Hogan paid a flying visit to the Premier County on Friday evening, having his picture taken outside the Horse and Jockey with the two Cathaoirleachs of North and South Tipperary County Councils, Cllrs Michéal Lowry and Michael Fitzgerald.
When asked if the merger would save more money than would have to be paid out in travelling expenses for the Councillors, Mr Hogan told the Tipperary Star that the Councillors’ expenses are “very low” relative to the overall budget for Local Authorities. “This decision is about creating efficiencies, and affecting greater delivery of services in order to reduce the cost to business people who have to pay a substantial amount of money in commercial rates to service a lot of the services which the people of Tipperary take for granted at the moment, to make it more competitive for them, and to create an economic critical mass for the County.”
Asked about potential job losses, Mr Hogan said the merger would be done a phased basis while the details “will be worked out in due course.
“The principal decision is to ensure that we don’t have duplication of services which we do have at the moment. The taxpayer expects value for money now and to see the delivery of local services as effectively and efficiently as possible.” The implementation team, led by North Tipperary Council Manager Joe McGrath, is due to deliver its recommendations by the time of the 2014 local elections.
While Mr Hogan declined to be drawn on whether Nenagh or Clonmel would be the new ‘capital’, indications are that that honour may go to the Ormond town with its multi-million euro custom built Council building, despite Clonmel having the larger population. When asked if even the Town Councils in Tipperary are also in danger, Mr Hogan said “everything’s in danger.” It’s understood many of the decisions currently made by the Councils will be devolved to the Area Meetings.
South Tipperary County Council has 26 Councillors, with 21 in the North. This figure is likely to be reduced by 12 after 2014 with most of the reductions made in the South. Meanwhile, the merger has exposed sharp differences between the two County Mayors over which town should have the Council offices, and where the bulk of the reduction in Council seats should be made.
Both Michéal Lowry and Michael Fitzgerald said they will arguing the case to retain the Council Chambers in their respective towns. Cllr Lowry said Councillors can’t complain about losing their jobs, as it was up to the public who to vote for. “I think it’s a bit premature for Councillors trying to defend their positions because it’s the public which elects them.”
The new combined Council will have the same number of Councillors as other counties of similar size, said Mr Lowry. “I’d say we’ll end up with 33 or 34,” said Mr Lowry, who cast doubt on whether the merger will boost Tipperary’s profile. “For a county which was never a single entity, it’s a big step. We’re one county for most things, but it’s a big step politically.” Mr Lowry said it would mean a “huge round trip” for Councillors to whichever town becomes the county capital. “The most important thing now is to get the implementation team in place, and to bring some sort of assurances to the staff.” Mr Lowry said “all options” will be explored to save jobs, while maintaining services. Cllr Lowy added: “I’m sure North Tipperary will provide as strong a case as possible for its own civic facilities, and I’m sure South Tipp will do the same. We’re conscious of the fact that E29m has been spent (on Nenagh’s offices) in the last few years, and I’m sure the Department will be conscious of that too when the decision is made.”
Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said South Tipp will fight “110%” to ensure the Council Chamber is in Clonmel. “If the whole amalgamation of the Councils is based on population, then they must look at the population of Clonmel against Nenagh, and the population of the South as against North. From a common sense point of view, it has to be in Clonmel.” Cllr Fitzgerald had the honour of the opening the Clonmel Council building in 1992, and defended the building, saying it would make a “good county hall.” Cllr Fizgerald compared Tipp to Cork, which works on a regional basis. “There’ll be no more TN or TS, there’ll only be TY.”
Cllr Fitzgerald said Council staff are worried for their jobs, and added that he had concerns for the Town Councils. “I believe that something can happen regarding Dual Mandate, with people being members of both the Town and County Councils. Maybe that might stop.
“There is a role for Town Councillors in the future, and i sincerely hope that can be continued,” added Cllr Fitzgerald.