Saturday 21 October 2017

Coalition postpones overhaul of councils to autumn

Environment Minister Phil Hogan
Environment Minister Phil Hogan

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan's local government reforms were kicked to touch until the autumn yesterday amid disagreements in the Coalition over the plan.

A decision on approving the document was deferred because the Labour Party is demanding more changes and greater detail from the minister.

Mr Hogan has drafted proposals for a reduction in the number of city and county councillors and scrapping a number of town councils.

In plans that came before Cabinet yesterday, he was also looking to expand the powers of councils to make decisions on taxes and services.

But the Government decided to defer the decision and take more time to sort out the differences.

"I don't think there are any major issues with the broad policy issues. It's a big piece of work and there's no point in rushing it at this stage," a Government source said.

Labour wants to see more specific details on the powers to be given to councillors, as it believes the proposals are too vague. It also wants the reforms to go beyond just a raw cut in the numbers of councillors by bridging the gap in representation in different parts of the country.

The level of representations ranges from Leitrim, where there is one councillor for every 1,500 people, to Fingal in Dublin, where there is one councillor for every 10,000 people.

Labour wants the reform plans to take account of the changes in population across the country and a rebalancing of the figures.

Without necessarily increasing the overall number, the party believes these types of gaps in the number of people per councillor should be bridged to a degree.

This would benefit the number of councillors in the east of the country, around the capital and the commuter belt, where the population has grown -- and Labour is strongest.

Bigger

Fine Gael's view is Dublin was always treated differently to the rest of the country, because the population is bigger but in a more compact area.

The party will be reluctant to alienate rural voters by making changes that favour the cities more.

Meanwhile, the Government did agree to implement the recommended changes to the political map and reduce the number of TDs by eight in the next general election.

Last month, the Constituency Commission report proposed cutting the number of constituencies across the country from 43 to 40.

The number of TDs in the country will be cut by eight from 166 to 158 as part of a dramatic redrawing of the political map across the country.

Dublin, Munster and Connacht-Ulster each lose three TDs in the changes, while Leinster gains a seat.

Irish Independent

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