Plan to introduce national route tolls branded 'absurd'
A plan to introduce tolls on national routes was today branded absurd and a serious attack on rural Ireland.
The proposal is one of several reforms of local authorities estimated to save the taxpayer more than €500m.
Reducing the number of senior council officials, increasing the fee for driving licences and axing the "off-road" exemption for motor tax have also been mooted.
But motoring group AA said introducing a toll on non-motorway roads would be inefficient and costly.
Conor Faughnan, AA Director of Policy, said: "This makes absolutely no sense at all.
"The only purpose here is to raise extra money from motorists. Even if we accept that motorists will pay more taxes, using tolls to collect them is extremely inefficient and very costly."
Mr Faughnan said that if the Government chose to add just one cent per litre to the excise duty on petrol and diesel it would raise around €25m for the state.
The Labour Party said it would not support the tolling proposal.
Ciaran Lynch, Local Government spokesman, said: "While the report contains many positive recommendations, I would take serious issue with the proposal that provision be made for tolling national roads.
"This is a nonsense and represents another serious attack on rural Ireland. People who live in rural areas served by national primary routes already pay road tax, income tax, VAT and a myriad of charges.
"Expecting them now to fork out hundreds of euro a year just to pop down to the shop for a loaf of bread, or to take their children to school is a bridge a too far. This is not a proposal that I can support."
Key local government reforms include:
:: Slashing the number of county city managers from 34 to 24, directors of service by 20pc, senior and middle managers by 15pc.
:: New tolling schemes on national roads (both new and existing), with part of the revenue put back into local and national roads.
:: Planning fees should be increased and maximum fees for large developments axed.
:: The "off-the-road" facility allowing car owners to self-declare vehicles as not in use should be removed.
:: Cost of a ten-year driving licence be increased from €25 to €40, and the cost of a replacement licence from €15 to €30.
Mr Gormley said the recommendations would help authorities operate in a more cost-effective way, thereby helping economic recovery.
"Economic considerations require us to bring a new and sharper focus to those sectors which spend significant sums in providing services to the public," the minister said.
"The recommendations contained in this report provide a solid basis for local government to operate in a more cost effective and efficient manner and thereby to reinforce and maximise its contribution to economic recovery."
Chambers Ireland said the bulk of the estimated €511m must be passed on to businesses in the form of of lower rates and other reduced charges.
Hilary Haydon, Ratepayers and Local Government Council Chair, said: "Given that business has been the funder of 'last resort' for many local authorities, it follows that a significant amount of the cost savings achieved must be passed back to businesses in the form of reduced rates and other charges.
"The savings outlined in the report have the potential to help reduce the burden on local government funders, of which business is the largest. Speedy implementation of the recommendations is therefore vital."
Fine Gael said the report highlighted the badly-needed reforms of local government which it claimed had long been ignored by Fianna Fail and the Greens.
Phil Hogan, Environment spokesman, said: "There have been more reports into local government in the past 20 years then there have been actual reforms.
"However, this is the right time to look again at administration structures at local level and to deliver real reform."
Dublin North Fianna Fail TD Michael Kennedy, a member of the Oireachtas Transport Committee, said there were serious questions to be raised about the tolling proposal.
Mr Kennedy said the cost of erecting and manning the toll booths would be an added burden.
"There is no question that local authorities around the country need consistent streams of funding but the proposal put forward by the Independent Local Government Efficiency Review Group to set up tolls for our national roads is not logical at all," Mr Kennedy said.
"I do not believe this proposal can be considered in any way; it would adversely affect communities who do not have alternative options to car travel."
Mr Kennedy said he would be raising the issue with Transport Minister Noel Dempsey.