TEMPERS flared at this month’s meeting of South Tipperary County Council after a call was made to invite in Fine Gael Deputy Tom Hayes to the Council Chamber, to explain Phil Hogan’s recent local government “reforms” which will see all of Tipperary’s Town Councils abolished, along with the merger of North and South Tipp.
During heated exchanges, Fine Gael Cllr Michael Fitzgerald clashed with Independent Tom Wood over a motion to have the only pro-Government TD in South Tipp come before the Chamber to explain the reforms.
Cllr Wood requested: “That in view of the far reaching consequences and lack of clarity surrounding Minister Hogan’s announcement on Local Government reform, this Council invite Deputy Tom Hayes as the sole sitting government TD for this constituency to the next monthly or to a specially convened meeting, to help clarify members’ issues and familiarise himself on our concerns in advance of any Dáil debate or vote on the matter.”
Cllr Tom Wood (Ind) said this was the most important issue to ever come before the Council. “It is the Fine Gael TDs who will have the final decision regarding local government. There is a lot of uncertainty.” Councillors should be allowed to submit questions to Deputy Hayes beforehand. “He should come in here for a special meeting,” insisted Cllr Wood. “We deserve an explanation. We need clarity, at a Town Council and a County Council level. This is definitely the most important issue to face this Council in 100 years.” All the information so far seemed “shrouded in mystery,” added Cllr Wood.
Cllr Denis Leahy (Ind) said it was an attack on urban Ireland. “Now we have a cull of Tipperary, Cashel, Carrick-on-Suir, and Clonmel Borough Council.” All of the functions of local government, such as water, were being outsourced to national agencies. “They’re taking money from ordinary people, and nobody will have local representation,” added Cllr Leahy. “Nobody knows what’s coming down the tracks.”
Cllr Michael Fitzgerald (FG) said members shouldn’t call in TDs every time there is a controversial bill before the Dáil. Cllr Wood said he knew Cllr Fitzgerald would have some answer like that prepared. “I am not in favour of inviting in TDs every time there is legislation before the Dáil” insisted Cllr Fitzgerald. Cllr Wood seemed to have a “personal gripe” with Tom Hayes, added Cllr Fitzgerald during heated exchanges.
“This local reform will create chaos. I am lucky I am Independant, I can say what I want to say... I know there are people over there (in Fine Gael) who think the same,” responded Cllr Wood.
Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald (Lab) said the reforms, called Putting People First, “will not work.” Cllr Siobhán Ambrose called on all the TDs, including Alan Kelly, Michael Lowry, and Noel Coonan, to come before the Council to anwer questions. Post 2014, local representatives will be left “screaming from the rooftops” without any say, added Cllr Ambrose.
Cllr Sylvia Cooney Sheehan said she supported the motion. Her father had served proudly on Carrick-on-Suir Town Council, which is now being abolished “with the stroke of a pen.” Cllr Cooney Sheehan said she would be honoured to serve as Town Councillor for no money at all, “but I wasn’t even given that chance. Deputy Hayes will be one of the ones making the decision. Peoples’ lives will be affected, without any consultation,” added Cllr Sheehan.
Cllr Denis Ryan (Lab) said the Government “got it wrong. Local government reform is needed but not like this. It’s removing a layer of democracy. I would be the first to say it’s wrong in its current format.”
Cllr Pat English (WUAG) said it was a “serious attack on local democracy. People cannot understand why the Fine Gael party seem to be taking this on the chin, like lambs to the slaughter. I think it will be challenged constitutionally.” Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald was told to “reflect on his language” by the Cathaoirleach after he told members the government had made “an absolute balls” of local government reform. Nobody will want to go into local politics after 2014 due to the workload, added Cllr Fitzgerald.