PHIL HOGAN’S proposals to radically overhaul local government structures have met with a mixed response from the opposition and other interested groups.
Hogan’s plans, confirmed this afternoon, will see the number of councils operating in Ireland cut from 114 to just 31, with town councils abolished and county councils instead split into ‘municipal areas’ which will take over the role of a town council.
Here’s a selection of the responses from various bodies – political and otherwise – today.
- Fianna Fáil: Environment spokesman Barry Cowen argues that the proposals merely centralise power and represent ‘another major opportunity wasted by a Government that promised real reform and was given an unprecedented mandate to deliver it’. Cowen said the plans would reduce the connection between citizens and government at a time a closer connection was badly needed.
- Sinn Féin: Brian Stanley also uses the words “wasted opportunity”, and says today’s announcements are “heavy on bluster and light on detail”. The environment spokesman says the plans go against the Programme for Government’s pledge to devolve more power to local institutions.
- Green Party: Eamon Ryan labels the plans a ‘blow to local democracy’, and particularly focusses on the creation of three larger regional authorities (replacing 10 slightly smaller ones). He says the plans fail Dublin by rolling the city’s four councils into a larger authority, and not into a Dublin-specific body, does a disservice to the capital.
- Independents: Catherine Murphy of the technical group describes the reforms as “a significant and rare opportunity to effect real reform to our system of local Government and we cannot afford to get this wrong”. The municipal area committees must have clear functions and responsibilities, and be given the power to enforce these functions.
- Councils themselves: The ‘Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland’ – the body representing town and city councils – says it broadly welcomes the plans, and says it believes the new sub-county municipalities will have the bulk of power in new council structures. This, it says, is a good thing – though it regrets the fact that the number of councillors is being cut by 40 per cent. This will leave Ireland with “one of the weakest local government systems in Europe”, it says.
- Dublin Chamber of Commerce: The capital’s traders take a similar tack to Eamon Ryan; it says delaying a decision on the mayor until 2014 is kicking the can down the road. They also slam the plans for not discussing how the locally-raised income (through the property tax) will be distributed to councils.
- Planners: The Irish Planning Institute welcomes the abolition of town councils, which it says had limited relevance and not much power, but remains concerned about the fact that regional planning authorities will not be directly elected. Hogan’s reforms mean local councillors will have less power in dictating council plannign policy, a suggestion made by the Mahon Tribunal.
- Employers: IBEC welcomes “the broad thrust” of the reforms, saying the scrapping of town councils and reduction in councillor numbers could only mean less bureaucracy. The body is critical, however, of the absence of measures to lower commercial rates, which it says are currently posing a major economic hindrance.
- Property industry: IBEC affiliate Property Industry Ireland says it was difficult to justify the existence of 88 local planning authorities, so a merger to reduce bureaucracy is welcome. The body is looking for a reduction in development contributions.
- Conservationists: An Taisce offered a cautious welcome – complementing the reduction in councillor numbers and the move towards local revenue-raising – but said it wanted to take some time to study the plans in full.