A row over where the new all-county Tipperary County Council will meet for monthly meetings dominated a discussion on how the North-South merger is progressing, at a meeting of the current South Tipperary County Council.
An update on the process was brought to the council by County Manager Billy McEvoy, but many councillors were more distracted by the question of an agreement to rotate council meetings between the Clonmel and Nenagh county council buildings.
Councillors argued about a proposal to write to the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan asking him to make Clonmel the “designated headquarters” for the new county council. In the end the motion was passed but with an amendment asking for both towns to be designated ‘joint headquarters.’
Discussing an update on the merger and a motion proposed by Cllr Siobhan Ambrose to make Clonmel the headquarters of the new county council, Cllr Liam Ahern said that it had already been agreed at a meeting that meetings would rotate between the north and south of the county and that she now wanted to change that “for political reasons.”
Cllr Denis Leahy said he understood an interim decision had been made to rotate between Nenagh and Clonmel
Cllr Pat English called for a decision to be taken and to make Clonmel the headquarters of the new council.
“The more this goes on the more confusing it gets,” Cllr Tom Wood declared.
“We were told the new members would decide, on the other hand we were told meetings would rotate. Who is telling the truth? After the June meeting next year 40 councillors will be called together where? They won’t fit anywhere. It’s bringing the Christmas panto into June. The whole thing is an absolute farce from start to finish. The public representatives here are treated like dirt. Putting People First? They are putting people last at every opportunity.”
Cllr Eddie O’Meara said that while he would dearly love to see the headquarters in Clonmel he felt the way to go was to rotate the meetings.
The original proposal was to make Clonmel the headquarters, but an amended proposal to make both Nenagh and Clonmel joint headquarters was eventually put to a vote. The vote was tied 10 for and against, and the casting vote of chairman Cllr John Crosse saw the amended motion carried.
The County Manager began his report to the meeting saying that the key message is that the merger is progressing according to plan. It will officially come into being in June 2014. “We have to have a county council fit for purpose in place by the time the new council comes in,” he said.
A merger committee is working on a new service model with a new senior management structure, which will see senior management reduced by 40%. Rates will also have to be harmonised and a new county economic plan will have to be prepared. A bigger county will have a stronger voice, Mr McEvoy said. “Customer service will be at the core of what we do.”
Mr McEvoy said there would be significant changes for staff, but he would not publicly discuss individual posts.
Cllr Darren Ryan said he had some reservations at what had been agreed to date, particularly the location of the Fire Service and Civil Defence headquarters in Nenagh when there is a high quality training centre already in Clonmel.
Cllr Siobhan Ambrose, who proposed writing to the Minister to make Clonmel the county headquarters, said she was concerned at the “sweeping changes coming down the track and the detrimental affect it will have on South Tipperary.”
Cllr Michael Murphy said he was “somewhat concerned that no decision has been taken to date on a designated headquarters.”
There was support for Cllr Ambrose from Cllr Richie Molloy who said you can’t argue with the fact Clonmel is the largest town in the county. People fear if the county headquarters is moved north it will affect citizens, he said, and they should remind the Minister this is causing disquiet.
Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said it was a huge task and a huge amount of work had already been done, however he suggested they not make any more decisions, that it’s a matter for the new council in 2014. He said he was more concerned about the new electoral areas that are to be drawn up by a boundary commission and will combine areas like Tipperary and Cashel. “I am more interested that there will be strong ‘municipal districts,’” he said.
Looking forward to the new council, Cllr Fitzgerald said “very little work” would happen on a council of 40 members and predicted that decision would be made by the municipal area councils, which will have 10 or 12 members. These groups have to be given powers, he insisted.
“We have to get out of our heads ‘what’s gone north,’” he told his colleagues. “When we see our hurlers playing we don’t say ‘he’s a north Tipp man.’”
There was agreement from Cllr Joe Brennan who said extra resources have to be made available to the municipal districts, especially for roads.
“Change is difficult but change is coming quickly,” Cllr Mary Hanna Hourigan pointed out. She said it was a distressing time for council staff but she had to agree with Cllr Fitzgerald - “it’s going to happen and we have to get on with it.”
Mr McEvoy said that in the county mergers that were taking place Tipperary was probably the most complex. The distance from Clonmel to Nenagh is 90km and that makes it a challenging exercise. It was one of the first things considered by the implementation group, but it was not realistic to build a new headquarters, he said.
“We have an opportunity to shape the model ourselves. If we don’t someone else will do it for you,” he told the meeting, pointing out that some decision will have to be made by the new body.
Tipperary County Council will be part of a new region made up of Munster, Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny, Mr McEvoy set out.
Director of Services Sean Keating said that he hopes to know more details about the new electoral areas by June.