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Thursday 27 July 2017

Government to slash number of town councils

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

ENVIRONMENT Minister Phil Hogan is to cut the number of town councillors and town councils rather than abolish urban authorities.

There are currently 80 town councils -- including seven in Tipperary alone -- and 774 councillors serving on them. But they cannot be abolished until the next local authority elections in two years' time, when radical new structures are due to be put in place.

Mr Hogan has stated that there are "too many councillors and councils" -- but it is understood that not every town council will face the chop in his reform plans.

Around 49 town councils have legal responsibility for planning, housing, local roads and parks. Most at risk will be the 26 town councils -- previously known as town commissioners -- which have a very limited range of functions.

In total, town councils cover around 14pc of the population. The smallest, Ballybay Town Council in Co Monaghan, represents just 401 people. All town councillors get a "representative payment" of €16,724 a year.

Mr Hogan singled out the town councils for mention in the Seanad last week as he declared his intention to put "new and more effective arrangements in place".

"Without devaluing the work of the members and staff of town councils, we must honestly acknowledge that the sub-county level has become an increasingly marginalised element of the local government system, with problems of weakness, duplication and inconsistency," he said.

A spokeswoman for Mr Hogan said he would not be making any comment on the future of town councils until he published his local authority reform plans in the next two months.

"The minister believes that towns are central to local government and he will build local government around the towns," she said.

Mr Hogan is also promising to give more powers to city and county councils -- which will be receiving direct funding from their electorate in the form of the new €100 household charge and then the annual property tax.

But Fianna Fail environment spokesman Niall Collins said any changes to town councils would have to be considered very carefully.

"They don't contribute significantly to the cost of delivering local government. There's a bit of a populist trend of peeling away every level of democracy but we have to safeguard against diluting democracy," he said.

Mr Collins pointed out that there were no town councils in his native Limerick -- whose city and county councils are being merged. But he said there were seven in Tipperary, where North Tipperary and South Tipperary county councils are also being merged.

"We need to have a uniform national policy," he said.

Irish Independent

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