The Mayors and members of Ireland’s five Borough Councils in Clonmel, Drogheda, Kilkenny, Sligo and Wexford have agreed to oppose the proposals in the ‘Putting People First’ document proposed by Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan.
They have called for the reversal of the proposal to abolish their councils which have been in existence for up to 1,000 years and are seeking an urgent meeting with the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for the Environment.
The Government’s proposals would see the abolition of the Borough Councils and their being subsumed into their neighbouring county councils. There has been no attempt according to the Mayors to ensure that the councils continue as distinct councils for their own towns and cities. This flies in the face of the practice of the majority of EU member states where town and local councils are at the heart of local democracy. They also stated that Ireland has the lowest number of elected councillors and councils in the EU per head of population, unlike the position constantly repeated in the national media.
Of particular concern according to the Mayors is the ring-fencing of funds collected in the towns and cities to ensure that funds raised in the urban area are spent locally.
The Mayors questioned the wisdom of the proposal for the abolition of the councils at the very time when councils have secured financial resources through the forthcoming local property taxes. They also strongly argued that Borough Councils provide excellent value for money and questioned whether any money would actually be saved by the proposals. They pointed out that a huge amount of the potential savings have already been achieved through the sharing of services between neighbouring local authorities.
The Mayors have supported the position taken by the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland in considering a legal challenge to the reform proposals. The Mayors claim that the proposal to abolish this layer of local government is in clear breach of the EU’s principle of subsidiarity, which states that the most effective decisions are made by local councils at the lowest possible level. They also stated that the proposal is deeply ironic coming at the beginning of Ireland’s EU Presidency.
All five Borough councils are either designated as gateway or hub towns or cities under the National Spatial Strategy and the Mayors claim that the proposals being put forward are in clear contravention of the that strategy. The Mayors claimed that the proposal would fundamentally weaken the ability of the towns and cities to act as economic drivers in their regions.
The Mayors concluded that the decision to abolish their councils will lead to a real democratic deficit. The moving of decision making from people’s local urban areas to their county structures would mean that the ability of their Borough Councils to make really effective decisions locally will be fundamentally weakened.