TWO of Listowel's longest-serving councillors are split over the merits of Environment Minister Phil Hogan's decision to scrap town councils.
Listowel's economy will suffer greatly from the loss of its town council as services provided by local shops to the authority will likely be acquired somewhere else by local government, Fianna Fáil's Maria Gorman has warned.
Fine Gael Cllr Denis Stack has, however, welcomed his party colleague's decision as a master-stroke that will provide a much more modernised form of local government for north Kerry as a whole.
Businesses will suffer, local council workers dedicated to the streets of the town could be deployed in any part of the county and the people will lose a political voice that is of far greater value than they realise - that's according to Cllr Gorman. Cllr Gorman is the earliest elected member of the authority, first taking a seat in 1979.
"One of the big worries for Listowel is the danger of what is termed central procurement. This means that, say, at the moment we would spend our money, in printing services and so on, with local businesses. But under a more central local government all of these may be provided by Dublin-based businesses in what would be a major loss for Listowel. We recently saw exactly how many local contractors we gave work to and all that will be gone."
She criticised the move as a decision taken all too hastily by Minister Hogan. "It's clear that the public doesn't want us, the media doesn't want us and this is simply a case of Minister Hogan paying lip-service to the mood. I think there is nothing more democratic than the town council structure. Our meetings are open, anyone can come to them and everything we get is completely transparent," Cllr Gorman said.
While detail of the reforms are still sketchy, Cllr Stack - who is the longest serving elected Fine Gael member of any authority in the county - believes it will be firmly to the benefit of everyone. He understands that a new municipal authority covering all of north Kerry and comprised of nine elected members will be established.
"The present system has been there for 114 years and it has passed its sell-by date. I believe that a nine-member district, or municipal, council will be elected for Listowel and north Kerry and I think people will be very happy with that. It will be much better place to serve the purposes of long-term economic development and enterprise encouragement than the current structure, which has a lot of duplication as far as I'm concerned between town and county services.
"We need a more coherent structure now more than ever in order to bring more enterprise, to work for the development of the landbank, the Wild Atlantic Way and to stop the tide of emigration by helping to secure a pay packet for our young people on a Friday evening."