By: Donal A. Murphy
In the previous article I showed that the references to history as justification for abolition of the two county councils were false. I challenged the claim that “unification” would produce “stronger, more cohesive local government” and probed the basis of estimates for both the extent of savings in expenditure and for lower rates levied on commercial property.
Some Councillors have drawn attention to the pertinent facts of geography. “You can’t expect the people in Carrick-on-Suir to be sorting out problems in Borrisokane, or to have any interest in it. Local issues need to be left to local Councillors to sort out.” “Geographically, we are unlike any other local authority in the country and that needs to be taken into account.”
Yes, we are unique. In The Two Tipperarys I analysed the rationale behind central government conceding to the demand for self-government in 1838: “Prime in Extent and Inconvenience”. Firstly, in the five counties of greater extent than Tipperary, both in terms of acreage and length-width, each had an assize town (and thus local government headquarters) relatively convenient to all of its sizeable segments. Next, five other counties of an elongated shape like Tipp’s had central headquarters. Finally, only three had such county towns somewhat analogous to Clonmel’s peripheral situation within Tipperary but they are much smaller counties. That is still the general picture, notwithstanding the recent creation of the three Dublins.
The extent of day-to-day concern of both citizens and their elected representatives are multiple as compared with pre-1838, indeed with the pre-1990s. Whether it is a road overdue repair or a house extension or a scheme for enhanced sewerage or a conservation project, individuals, voluntary groups and their public representatives require ready access to and close attention by officials familiar with the specific area.
The truth is that the County Tipperary, united patriotically in song and sport and general affection, is not a unit, a locality, fit for local government. The lack of knowledge within each part of the other came home to Nancy Murphy and myself when researching the 1982 and 1996 County Touring Guides. Cloughjordan and Mullinahone, Portroe and Ardfinnan might as well have been in the USA as in the one county when it came to acquaintance other than recognising the names. The competition between such localities for the development of services could prove most divisive, certainly not “cohesive”. Inevitably, the two well-established identities of North and South would scrutinise the respective shares of the annual budget.
Several Councillors have been reported as having other reservations: “… the abolition of the old health boards to create the HSE as an example of how an amalgamation didn’t save money.” “This is a recipe for chaos.” “I believe we are going to lose our effectiveness and that will defeat the whole purpose of our existence. … big is not always best.” Again, cogent argument.
Organisations – whether clubs, commercial units, local authorities or nation-states – develop their individual cultures over a period of time. They are similar to others in many respects but each is unique in the details of its methods. It can be counter-productive to alter them drastically. The abolition of the health boards and creation of a colossus called the HSE halted the momentum of huge progress made by the boards and further advances that were underway, destroyed the channels of communication built up over time among staffs of all disciplines, diminished morale, and as a result adversely affected the public who were their clients/patients.
Likewise, highly relevant: “It would also mean more job losses on top of the job cuts that had already taken place, which he believed will impact on services to the public.” “It will facilitate staff reduction with consequent excessive workloads on remaining staff.”
The Local Government Efficiency Review Group identified twelve “areas” of services, each “area” having a multiple of individual services, each one from time to time impacting on individual people and small, close-knit communities. A Tipperary exception – libraries and archive – has had since 1926 a central location for which there should be no question of relocation, Thurles. It is a non-contentious service, any competition between the two counties for new and enhanced buildings simply solved by each taking its turn. The single-purpose County Library is not a headline for amalgamating two full-blooded County Councils.
Nor does it make a case for Thurles or Tipperary or Cashel as a new headquarters. It would be the final madness to abandon either Clonmel (1992, costing the equivalent of 7.9 million euro in current money values) or Nenagh (2004, 27 million). And it would be, literally, inhuman to shift either staff corps in the other direction, to add to what has to have been extra stress as a result of the reduced numbers still required to provide the very same range of services.
An MEP: “We will be the only county in the country served by two different health regions and two different business development agencies.” Commercial development is helped mainly by local authorities’ provision of infrastructure. In what way does the present pairing fall down in that regard and how conceivably could their amalgamation provide better by an administration attempting to span the “large extent”?
It can be argued that the county has the best of both worlds/regions. A single Tipperary would be bird alone squawking for attention, and if the South were placed in the Mid-West and the North in the South-East each is more likely to suffer than to gain.
Additionally, can it be contemplated that the multiple tourism providers, strong going concerns, in the South will have to deal with Shannon Development in Co. Clare, or that the Northern ones will be equally happy to deal with the South-East headquarters in Waterford?
Perhaps the Implementation Group will find a way to retain the essence of two separate local authorities in a manner that will enable the Minister to concede that the drastic surgery of abolition is not necessary. It may be valuable to remind ourselves that at the end of a lengthy consultation process, at unspecified expense, the Local Government Efficiency Review Group produced a 209-page report as recently as July 2010. It recommended, in great detail, joint management and a sharing of some services. They did not recommend a full merger. No persuasive case has been made for that.