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Fianna Fáil wants to bring back town councils - three years after we scrapped them

Town councils were abolished by former Minister Phil Hogan in 2014.

Group Leader in the Seanad Senator Catherine Ardagh, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Local Government Shane Cassells and Spokesperson on Justice and Equality Jim O’Callaghan.
Group Leader in the Seanad Senator Catherine Ardagh, Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Local Government Shane Cassells and Spokesperson on Justice and Equality Jim O’Callaghan.
Image: Sam Boal

TOWN COUNCILS COULD be on the way back if Fianna Fáil gets their way.

In 2014, 80 town councils were abolished as part of local government reform under the Fine Gael/Labour government.

The Local Government Bill, published by the then Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, reduced the number of councillors by more than 40%.

Following their abolition, councillors sat on new Municipal District County Councils.

‘Slash and burn’

Fianna Fáil now want town councils to be reinstated, stating that Fine Gael took a “slash and burn approach to local democracy” which left many urban areas without a voice.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Local Government Shane Cassells said the new Bill aims to bring decision-making power back to local communities.

It’s proposed that new town councils will take care of the basics in the town – such as footpaths and cycle lanes – as well as the larger aspects in town life, such as parks, local theatres and arts spaces.

The abolition in town councils resulted in “paltry savings”, according to Cassells.

Scrapping town councils robbed people of local representation and deprived towns of having a council dedicated solely to fighting their corner, he said.

In 2013, Hogan said getting rid of town councils would save around €400 million, but Fianna Fáil said it never delivered such savings.

It’s estimated it will cost around €15 million to bring back town councils, with Cassells telling reporters today that councillors will most likely receive similar payments as they did back in 2014, which was about €50 per week after tax (around €2,400 per year).

Local representation

Criticising the current scheme, Cassells said the Municipal District system has clearly left towns at a disadvantage.

“In Denmark… it has a public representative for every 1,100 people, while in Ireland that number rises to 2,800. It is the highest number in Europe with only the UK behind us,” he explained.

“Even the Labour Party, which was part of the government that dissolved town councils, has now recognised what a mistake it was to abolish them,” Cassells told reporters today.

He appealed to the Labour Party to support his party’s efforts to get the new Bill through the Dáil.

New minister open to change 

With reports over the weekend that the new Minister of State with special responsibility for local government, John Paul Phelan, is open to reforming the system and to re-introducing some form of local councils, the idea could become reality.

“I hope to engage with the new Minister for Local Government John Paul Phelan to make sure the Government lives up to its commitments by taking real action to give power back to local communities,” said Cassells.

In the past, some very small regions around the country had a town council. But Cassells said not all councils should be re-established.

He said a commission under the Local Government Act will review the geographical distribution of proposed town councils. It will also examine their powers and how they are financed.

“Instead of simply re-storing the old system, which had a number of flaws it aims to establish a fair mechanism and clear powers for a new town council structure,” he said.

Fianna Fáil said it wants the new structures up and running by the next local elections which are due to be held in May 2019.

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