Tipperary’s two county councils may be uniting in three years time but a fierce political battle between north and south is already brewing over the location of the new joint local authority’s headquarters.
The battle lines have already drawn with South Tipperary Co. Council Chairman Cllr Michael Fitzgerald making it clear that his 12 Fine Gael colleagues on South Tipperary Co. Council will be lobbying Environment, Community & Local Government Minister Phil Hogan strongly to base the new unified county council headquarters at County Hall in Clonmel.
Meanwhile, up north, Nenagh based Minister of State Alan Kelly has clearly nailed his colours to the mast by declaring that he will be pushing for the amalgamated Co. Tipperary Co. Council head office to be based in Nenagh where he pointed out there was a purpose built unit.
All South Tipperary Co. Council members The Nationalist has spoken to over the past week have stated that securing the location of the new county council headquarters in Clonmel was a priority for them due to the huge distances councillors representing South Tipperary will have to travel for Council meetings and business if it’s located in north Tipperary, particularly at North Tipperary Co. Council’s head office in Nenagh.
When the issue was put to the Department of Environment, Community & Local Government, a spokesman said organisational implications will be matters for consideration by the Implementation Group that will be set up in September to plan and roll out the merger.
He said providing new accommodation in a central location in the county was not realistic in the short term.
If there were need for new accommodation, a central location might be an attractive option. However, the idea of providing or procuring a new headquarters in lieu of existing facilities would, clearly, not be realistic in the short term.
“Not all members would have significantly longer distances to travel to either of the existing centres and for those located at either end of the county, rotation of meetings would reduce the impact.”
The Implementation Group to work out the details of the amalgamation of both local authorities is likely to be required to complete its work by early next year with the production of a plan setting out a clear agenda and guidance for the local government re-organisation process up to the setting up of the single county council in 2014.
A review of local electoral areas for the purposes of elections to the new authority at the 2014 local elections will take place next year. The Department says membership of the new authority will be in line with membership of counties with a similar population.
The big concerns among council staff and councillors in both north and south Tipperary is how many jobs will be cut and how many councillors seats be axed.
IMPACT has written to Council management seeking assurances that there won’t be any compulsory redundancies in line with the Croke Park Agreement between the Government and public service while Independent Cllr Denis Leahy has called on Minister Hogan to consult fully with councillors, who face losing their seats and in many cases their livelihoods at the next local elections.
Cllr Fitzgerald said the Fine Gael members of South Tipperary Co. Council will press Minister Hogan to ensure that staff jobs cuts and the reduction in council seats is kept to a minimum when they meet him at the end of August to discuss their concerns about the merger.
Minister Hogan’s announcement of the amalgamation last Tuesday week surprised politicians and local authority chiefs in South Tipperary.
Cllr Fitzgerald, who broadly welcomed the news, said he was a bit surprised it was announced so soon and he didn’t believe South and North Tipperary Co. Councils would be amalgamated ahead of local government mergers in counties like Waterford, Longford and Leitrim.
South Tipperary Co. Manager Billy McEvoy said he was also surprised at the timing of the announcement as he had long understood that the Minister would bring forward the restructuring of local government throughout the country in the autumn.
He also expressed disappointment that council staff were not made aware of the merger before it was officially announced.
Mr McEvoy described the merger as a “very significant political decision”, which they now had to respond to and work out the details.
He said how local authority services were to be delivered to the public for the entire county needed to be looked at and the structures of the other local authorities from Clonmel Borough Council to the town councils in north and south of the county needed to be also looked at in terms of the re-organisation of staffing.
Mr McEvoy said the merger had a lot of implications for the 1200 council staff employed between both county councils and he assured IMPACT,that Council management will consult fully with the union.
Mr McEvoy pointed out that the merger also had implications for the economic development of the whole county. South Tipperary was part of the South East region in the area of regional development while North Tipperary was in the Mid-West region.