There is widespread shock throughout County Tipperary this week with the announcement by Environment Minister Phil Hogan that North and South Tipperary County Councils are to merge from the 2014 local elections onwards.
The new body, to replace the existing North and South Tipperary councils, will serve a population of 159,000 people (compared with North Tipperary County Council’s 70,219 and South Tipperary County Council’s 88,433).
North and South Tipperary were among the authorities that the 2010 Local Government Efficiency Review Group report recommended should have joint management arrangements.
While it is envisaged that a merger will see greater savings and efficiencies, in terms of removing duplication, an integration of administrations and better service delivery, there are also huge concerns for the employment levels in both authorities with numbers likely to be reduced in some shape or form.
Mayor of North Tipperary, Cllr Micheal Lowry told The Tipperary Star that the news did not come as a shock as it had been in the pipeline for some time. However, he was unable to say whether it would be a good thing or a bad thing for the county.
“All we have heard is that the amalgamation will happen. We have no other detail whatsoever and I suppose until such time as we can actually see the nuts and bolts of the arrangement it would be unwise to comment,” Mayor Lowry said.
The aim is to cut commercial rates in North Tipperary, currently at €60.13, to the South Tipperary level of €56.77, which is estimated to cost in the region of €389,000.
The decision over the two Tipperary authorities, which were linked under joint management up to 1969, follows the recent announcement of the merger of Limerick City and county councils.
“The measures we have announced in relation to Limerick and Tipperary involve the most significant change in the structure of local government for many years,” Mr Hogan said. “They are among the early actions in a wider programme of local government reform and development that I will be developing over the coming months,” Minister Hogan said.
However, the decision is likley to be met with much opposition and will immediately pose the question - where will the new administrative headquarters be situated?
North and South Tipperary VEC’s are also being mooted for merge as departmental officials seek to find efficiencies in their budgets. However, a strong case has been put forward for retaining both education authorities in their own right with little savings to be made by the merger. It is likely that similar opposition will be put forward to merging the County Councils which are headquartered currently in Nenagh and Clonmel.
Deputy Noel Coonan has issued a guarded welcome to the amalgamation and said the merger will “lead to greater efficiencies and savings within the Council with money being directed at essential works instead of administration costs.”
However, Deputy Coonan said it is paramount that the new Council is based in North Tipperary especially as Clonmel already has an existing Borough Council. He added that he will be pushing for this with North Tipperary’s Civic Offices being ultra modern and in great condition.
“Alongside this, Minister Phil Hogan has yet to outline how this merger will affect the number of Councillors that will be elected to the unified Council,” said Deputy Coonan.