Replacing The Two County Councils

By: Donal A. Murphy

By: Donal A. Murphy

In a postscript within The Two Tipperarys (published 1994) I gave four reasons why I believed “reunification” of the two County Councils would not take place: the presence of a new South Riding headquarters in Clonmel and the imminence of one for the North Riding in Nenagh (since handsomely and expensively provided); the divisive process of choosing the site of a new headquarters; the disturbance of staff homes and travelling to work; the reduction in representation to perhaps 30 as against the existing 21 plus 27 elected members and the drastic surgery of electoral areas and seat numbers.

How now do those factors stand vis-a-vis the decision of the Minister for Local Government to abolish the two Councils and replace them with one? There is, firstly, a mystery as to who advised the move, what consideration it received in cabinet, and why no apparent consultation was undertaken with elected members, staff or the public on altering the provision of a myriad of close-to-home services, i.e. LOCAL government. I believe it is necessary to examine the stated rationale for such a fundamental change.

The Irish Times, quoting Minister Phil Hogan: “One of the reasons for retention of both Tipperary Councils in the 1898 Local Government Act was the lawlessness of the county but that consideration no longer applied.” A Councillor: “The reality is that 173 years ago we were one county and it was much more effective. In fact we were so effective the British had to divide us to make us easier to control.”

Neither is correct. A thoroughly undemocratic parliament under King George l in 1716 defined “the County of Tipperary” as “one county for ever”, alongside abolishing the semi-royal palatinate called “Tipperary or Cross Tipperary” which had evolved with plusses and minuses of territories along its borders from the original Norman (Butler) confiscation of Gaelic lands.

Over the years 1828-38, there was a move somewhat in accord with the republican principle of self-determination, albeit by the grand jurors who were the local rulers in that era. The Northerners succeeded in convincing a liberal Lord Lieutenant and his Council that the “great extent of the said county, and the inconvenient situation of the town of Clonmel” justified division into two “ridings” and the establishment of an assizes/court town additional to Clonmel, i.e. Nenagh.

Lawlessness and therefore heavy court business was a contributory factor in the 1830s and was not at all so in peaceful 1898 when Irish and British MPs had the good sense to build a more democratic system upon the two-ridings framework which had proved itself to be effective over the course of 60 years.

There is little if any evidence as to whether the landed aristocracy of 1716 to 1838 were “effective”; indeed they may have been, dealing twice yearly with a pitiful patchwork of untarred roads and bridges, courthouses and primitive hospitals to finance. Management was by one surveyor, a couple of assistant surveyors, one secretary and up to a half–dozen clerks. That is quite some record to exhume and admire.

Is there anything more factually correct or cogent in other statements? Minister Phil Hogan’s Press Release: “[unification] should bring about stronger, more cohesive local government that is better positioned to promote the interests of the county and contribute to job creation and recovery effort generally.” A Councillor. “170 years of division has weakened the Premier County. We have sadly witnessed the negative result of that separation.”

There is not the slightest evidence adduced for either view. Every phrase in the Minister’s hyperbole prompts the questions: How, in what way? The Councillor is repeating a “unity” sentiment he proposed in 1993 that received the dissent of silence except for one expose of its being based solely on sentiment. Any examination of the record of the two County Councils now would show, I surmise, that each has been effective in the delivery of services despite relatively scarce finances.

A Councillor. “We’re one county for most things.” Actually, we’re not. Some federations of voluntary parish and district organisations are cross-border but most are grouped as either North or South. The GAA’s countywide board has four divisional boards where the great bulk of federal work is carried out for the clubs.

A newspaper report: “There is a projected saving of 7 million euro.” No basis for that estimate has been produced. One wonders about several aspects: What trustworthy body has calculated the estimate? Is there double counting of savings on salaries of (a) staff who have left already, (b) those likely to retire before the reduced pension rules take effect next February; is there full account taken of the cost of retirement lump sums and annual pensions and of staff relocation expenses; what estimates are made for increased travelling expenses for members and officials?

The Minister’s Press release: “The merger should enable commercial rates in North Tipperary, currently 60.13 euro, to be reduced to the South Tipperary level of 56.77 euro, which is estimated to cost in the region of 389,000 euro.” Whence is that figure – forty per cent of a million euro? Is it a once-off central government purchase price for North Tipp acquiescence? And what happens thereafter? Will there be a common rate for the whole county, meaning in effect an annual subsidy by South to North?

I would like to examine other, possibly more serious, aspects of the argument in another article, again partly by reference to public statements made.