Monday 22 May 2017

Opposition and optimism

THE WIND of change sweeping through the corridors of local government was met with opposition and optimism depending on which side of the fence you sat on last week.

At the announcement of the radical reform of local government last week which will see the abolition of Greystones, Bray, Wicklow and Arklow town councils from 2014 Taoiseach Enda Kenny said ' the reduction in the number of councillors, the merger of certain county councils and the replacement of town councils with Municipal Districts is a necessary reform designed to increase the efficiency of local Government and will ensure that taxpayers money is translated into the services people expect and deserve in their local areas Putting People First represents the new vision required to strengthen and empower local government and Minister Hogan will oversee the implementation of many of its reforms in time for the 2014 local elections.'

Deputy Billy Timmins welcomed the changes saying 'councils must be restructured, more accountable to the public and efficiencies have to be achieved.'

However his comments drew the ire of Greystones town councillor Ciaran Hayden who said 'Greystones Town Council is the bed rock of democracy in our town. In 2009 over 6,000 people voted for this tier of democracy in Greystones, most voting for Deputy Timmins' party.'

He said Greystones Town Council has an annual budget of €90,000 with 50 per cent of this funded directly by Greystones rate payers and the balance funded by the local Government fund.

Cllr. Hayden maintains that the abolition of local town councils will spell the death knell for many community events and activities.

He said he is considering his future as a member of Greystones Town Council now in the wake of the announcement.

' The Town Council is finished and for the next eighteen months it will have little or no credibility. It will be like the last two hours on the Titanic - you know it is going to sink - do you sink with it or do you move on and get into a lifeboat.'

Like Deputy Timmins Labour TD, Ann Ferris, was also in favour of the changes but stressed the need for more work on the issue of gender balancing.

' The wide sweeping reforms will see the number of councillors reconfigured to represent the true populations of each county. Replacing town councils, municipal districts will be created in all towns and hinterlands, which sitting together will form the County or City Council.

'Municipal districts will offer a clear and transparent connection between citizens and their local representatives. Local decisions will continue to be made locally, which can only help democracy.

'While democracy in our local government will be increased as a result of this - more work needs to be done on gender balance, to create a truly democratic and fully representative local government.

'Minister Hogan has stated that a greater emphasis will be given to the participation of women in politics. As a former councillor, I know well the struggle of balancing work with raising a family.

'Greater attention should be given to when councils sit, to facilitate the participation of more women on our local councils.

'I certainly hope that political parties will run more female candidates next time out. In the vast majority of cases, the proposed local government reforms aim to have at least seven members per district. That being the case, it would be incumbent on parties to run additional candidates in districts where councillors are sitting already.

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