Monday 27 January 2020

Dozens of councillors will lose seats in merger move

Paul Melia

A RAFT of county councillors will lose their seats in a radical shake-up of local government.

Town and borough councils will be merged with bigger local authorities, resulting in dozens of council seats being abolished before the 2014 local elections.

The move will prompt a scramble from the country's sitting councillors for a party nomination to allow them run in the election.

A substantial number of the 700 seats in the 80 town and borough councils are to be abolished.

The measures were revealed by Environment Minister Phil Hogan at the Irish Planning Institute's annual conference in Kilkenny yesterday, with the full plan to be published in June.

Work has already begun on merging local authorities in Limerick and Tipperary, with Mr Hogan saying that smaller councils had to go because they could not deliver services efficiently.

"What we've been doing with Limerick and Tipperary is an example of what we have to do more of in terms of merging smaller authorities with larger authorities," he said.

"We are going to have less councils and less councillors, and that's going to be part of the local government package. It will come into effect for the local elections in 2014."

There are currently 29 county councils, five city councils, five borough councils and 75 town councils across the country. There are also eight regional authorities and two regional assemblies, a total of 124.

Town and borough councils have the right to grant planning permission, approve roads projects, provide social housing and set commercial rates. Transferring these powers to county council level could save up to €6m, a report for Government has said.

But the move will prompt an outcry among Fine Gael and Labour councillors, who control most local authorities in the State.

Most would have expected to run in the 2014 local elections, but because fewer seats will be available it means that many will not secure a party nomination.

Necessary

President of the Association of County and City Councils, Councillor Michael O'Brien (Labour), said the move was necessary.

There were 1,600 seats across all local authorities, he said, with more than 700 divided across 75 town councils and five borough councils.

His constituency of Kilkenny had one councillor per 3,300 population.

If this ratio was to be applied across the country, with a population of 4.58 million people, it would result in 1,390 council seats -- an overall reduction of more than 200.

"This is a significant statement from the minister, and it means radical change," Cllr O'Brien told the Irish Independent.

"There will be a scramble for seats and nominations, no doubt, but this should have happened 30 years ago.

"We inherited a British system but they changed it in the 1950s and 1960s and we didn't."

Some 300 councillors currently hold a dual mandate, sitting on two authorities, and are entitled to claim representational payments of up to €16,000 for sitting on a county council, and €3,000 for the smaller town councils.

The public would not accept this overlapping at a time when property taxes and water charges were being introduced, one local authority source said.

Among the counties to be hardest hit by the changes will be Cork, which has more than ten town councils, Wexford, which includes New Ross and Enniscorthy, and Donegal, which includes Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Donegal town councils.

Details to be finalised include the number of councils to be merged, and the number of council seats to be abolished.

The detailed reform package will be announced in June.

Irish Independent

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