Wednesday 21 February 2018

I was wrong to let FG scrap town councils, says Howlin

Brendan Howlin. Photo: Mark Condren
Brendan Howlin. Photo: Mark Condren
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Town councils that were abolished by the Coalition in an effort to save money would be re-established under proposals in the Labour Party's election manifesto.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin has told the Irish Independent he "took my own eye off the ball" when he allowed the municipal authorities be slashed in 2014.

The decision to scrap 80 town councils was part of former Environment Minister Phil Hogan's overhaul of local government.

The move reduced the number of councillors from 1,627 to 949.

However, Mr Howlin has lobbied his party colleagues for support to include the re-establishment of some councils in the manifesto.

"I think the loss of town governments was a mistake. I took my own eye off the ball because I was doing other things at that stage, trying to prevent the economy from sinking," he said.

"I think the idea of amalgamation was good in terms of synergy of resources but in terms of local representation the historic towns of Ireland always had a municipal government and I'd like to put that back."

Six city and county councils in Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford were merged into three new councils.

The list of council abolished included Wexford where Mr Howlin has been a TD since 1987.

He said the councils had been reduced "for cost and efficiency purposes" but in hindsight local representation was more important.

"We debated about whether we can afford such things as a Seanad in Ireland, two houses of parliament and people said 'no, our democracy is precious, we want a second reflection chamber'. That's what they decided," said Mr Howlin (pictured).

He said extra supports would have to be put in place but ultimately he believes people would support bringing back some councils.

"I'm all in favour of integrated managerial and support systems. That is rational. That the back office is integrated.

"But in terms of just having that democratic body of people that are recognisable in the town, the local mayor that greets the visitor, welcomes the local team home from victory or defeat, attends the local events, I think that is part of the defining of a local community - and I think the lack of it is a mistake," he said.

Mr Howlin also said he would like to return to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform if Labour was returned to government.

"Everybody had said I had the most difficult job in government. They told me that when I walked in here because basically I was given the job of balancing the books in terms of public expenditure.

"That meant reducing expenditure at a time when more and more people were dependent on public services. To do that in as fair a way as I possibly could," he said.

"I'm very proud of the job we've done in this department. I'm very proud of the people in this department who I asked to step up to the mark. I think they've done that in spades. Not just in terms of public expenditure but also on the reform side," the minister said.

Irish Independent

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