Nenagh Town Council met for the last time this Monday in the former town hall, ending 175 years of local democracy in the town. The occasion was described as “sad” by a number of councillors, who all paid tribute to the town’s last Mayor, Fianna Fail stalwart Cllr Jimmy Moran.
“Everybody was genuinely delighted the way the vote worked out for you to become the last mayor. You have served the town well for over 30 years,” town manager Marcus O’Connor told Cllr Moran.
He described the final meeting as a “historic night”, but pointed out that the new structures were now in place and they had to “get on with it and make sure Nenagh plays a prominent role in that new structure”.
Cllr Hughie McGrath said that over 100 years of local democracy had started in the town hall and recalled that local councillors had gone on to become TDs and senators.
“They served here with no reward and were happy to represent the people,” he said.
Cllr McGrath thanked Mayor Moran for always being a courteous mayor.
The council will be a loss to the town, said Cllr Tommy Moylan.
“We were determined to see you as the last mayor,” Cllr Seamus Morris told Cllr Moran. “You earned it and I’m proud of what we have done here on this council.”
Cllr Virginia O’Dowd recalled being co-opted on to the last council to meet in the town hall before the Civic Offices opened on Limerick Road and said it was a sad night when she thought of how close the council was to the people of the town. She hoped the new expanded council would be able to meet the same needs.
The abolition of the council was “very sad for democracy in the town”, said Cllr Tommy Morgan. “It is going to be an awful loss”.
He paid tribute to Mayor Moran, saying he was always held in high esteem and particularly recalled the role he played in going to Nenagh’s twin town of Ballycastle in Antrim at the height of the Troubles and outlining how local democracy worked in Nenagh.
He urged people to vote in the May 23 elections and especially to vote for people who had represented the town well, warning: “If you don’t vote, you will get what you deserve. The more people we have back here with experience the better for you.”
County manager Joe MacGrath also joined in the tributes to Mayor Moran, saying: “You have made a significant contribution to the town as a councillor as an an individual. You can be proud that you will be the last mayor.”
Mr MacGrath said it was important that following the local elections the councillors continued their work on the new municipal district council.
Despite it being the last meeting, Cllr Morris was disappointed the people of Nenagh were not going to be able to vote on the issue. He had requested a plebiscite, but said the Department of the Environment had ruled against it.
“It is a disgrace we are not being given chance to vote,” he said. “I believe they are making a mistake. I will always defend Nenagh Town Council and the work it has done. It was hugely positive for this town. Ths is being civil servant driven.”
Cllr Morris was delighted that FLAME (Former Local Authority Members Eire) was taking the Department to the High Court to explain the reasoning behind the abolition and to seek to have the Local Government Reform Act 2014 declared null and void.
“It unfortunate that our TDs went in and voted for this. I may be flogging a dead horse, but it is a horse worth flogging. If I think something is wrong I will try and stop it,” he said.
He was backed by Cllr Virginia O’Dowd, who said she would support anything that will try and save the town council.
Cllr O’Dowd claimed people were confused about who and what they were voting for and asked that the council issue a sample ballot paper so people would know what was required of them.
She urged that they all now back LEADER to try and prevent it being brought under council control. She hoped LEADER would fill some of the vacuum being left through the abolition of the council.
Cllr Morris was taken to task by Cllr Tommy Moylan, the council representative on the Association of Municipal Authorites of Ireland, over comments that the body had “given up too easily” on abolition or that the Department had ruled out holding a plebiscite.
“Holding a plebicite would be a huge task and is a reserved function of the council, and the AMAI’s legal advice was that we had a 20 per cent chance of winning a legal case. Never before has a judge postponed democratic elections in Ireland,” he said.
However, he agreed with Cllr Morris that the councils should not have been abolished.
Wrapping up the debate, Mayor Moran, who is not seeking re-election, said that he had enjoyed his time on the council.
“We only ever had sweet rows, never falling out rows,” he said. “I am proud of the work this council has done.”