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Local government needs independent 'fiscal autonomy'

LOCAL income taxes, which would given greater fiscal autonomy to councils, are needed if there is to be genuine local government in Ireland.

For too long there had been a "master servant" relationship between central and local government and the lack of an independent source of financing for local authorities needed to be addressed if this was to change.

Political lecturer, Dr Aodh Quinlivan told a conference of councillors at the weekend that the ending of the dual mandate would eventually make both local and national government more relevant to people.

But the separation of the roles of local representative and national politician did not represent a panacea for local government reform, he warned.

"It is but a step, and there is a long road to travel before we have genuine local government and local democracy in Ireland," said Dr Quinlivan of University College Cork.

"We still need genuine reform, both of local government and the Oireachtas. We need a greater fiscal autonomy for local government based on a local income tax, and a different kind of central-local relationship based on mutual trust and an understanding of each others role."

"The lack of an independent source of local financing, the limited functional base of local authorities and the continuing dead hand of centralism needed to be immediately addressed.

"My problem is that it's not yet clear whether the government has a coherent vision for local democracy in Ireland.

"It's difficult to have confidence in a vision, which changes at a whim.

"The Local Government Bill 2000 proposed to abolish the dual mandate but the Act dropped the idea, only for it to be re-introduced - with a handy ?12, 800 sweetener - in 2003," he added.

Dr Quinlivan was speaking at the annual conference of the General Council of County Councils in Cork.