South Tipperary wants a say on how two County Councils merger goes ahead

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

South Tipperary’s county councillors will later this month appeal directly to the Minister for Environment & Local Government to give them a voice on the body that will oversee the creation of a unified Tipperary Co. Council in three years time.

The Council’s elected members agreed at their September meeting last week that a cross-party delegation meet with Minister Phil Hogan to discuss the councils merger and urge him to appoint councillors to represent them on the implementation group that will be over the practical work of reorganising the county’s local government structures.

The merger of North and South Tipperary Co. Councils will lead to a reduction in the number of county councillors, which currently stands at 47 between the two local authorities and is widely expected to result in more local authority job cuts.

Some councillors expressed concern that the implementation group will be made up of experts with little practical knowledge of local government on the ground in South Tipperary.

In his opening address to South Tipperary Co. Council’s first meeting since the merger decision, Council Chairman Michael Fitzgerald admitted the Minister’s announcement in July came as a “bombshell” to all of them.

Since then, he said he had met and spoken with Minister Hogan on a number of occasions on the issue. There wasn’t any place on the implementation group for councillors and he had told the Minister this had to change because the elected members were going to be directly effected by the merger.

He said a meeting between the Council’s Fine Gael members and Minister Hogan was to take place later this month and he was sure this meeting could be expanded to include representatives from other parties and independents on the Council that would negotiate in time with the Government and officials.

Cllr Fitzgerald requested the whips from each political party and group to put together this delegation for this purpose.

County Manager Billy McEvoy said he believed the public representatives’ input into this process was very important and this was also the case in relation to the staff. He pledged to co-operate in whatever way he could with the elected members.

He said a lot of work had to be done on how to deliver services to the public under the merged council. There were a lot of practical issues to consider. South Tipperary, for example, was most closely aligned to such bodies as the South East Regional Authority and South East River Basin District Project.

The Council was facing “unprecedented and uncertain times” and legislation would be required to deal with some of the issues. “It will be vital to keep people updated and informed in the process, the elected members, unions, members of staff and our customers. I would like to acknowledge the work done by the elected member and staff of the five local authorities particularly over the last three years in very difficult economic times.”

The Council’s Fianna Fail group whip Cllr Michael Anglim praised Cllr Fitzgerald for his talks with Minister Hogan and hoped what he said would come to fruition.

Cllr Jack Crowe said there was an awful lot of talk among his own grassroots supporters and fellow councillors about how the amalgamation was going to effect them. They wanted to know whether their electoral areas would be merged with others or divided, where seats were going to be lost and where the headquarters of the council were going to be located.

Cashel Fianna Fail Cllr Sean McCarthy said he was not surprised to hear it was intended not to have any public representatives on the implementation group.

“The modus operandi over many years, and I am talking about Dail constituency changes, is that decisions are made by a group of so-called intellectuals who suddenly become total experts on how to run Ireland.

“I have no doubt you will have a group of pseudo-intellectuals, who have no political influence in the world and no concept of what politics is about. All influence must be exercised on Minister Phil Hogan, who is a most reasonable man, to ensure we do have influence and that this is not decided upon by no-name people. We might as well be writing to Mr Barosa than talking to those people. Mr Barosa might have more knowledgeable of what goes on in rural Ireland.”

Labour Cllr Sean Lonergan wondered whether the merger would actually cost money rather than saving money. If a central spot had to be chosen for the new county council’s headquarters it would prove very costly and pointed out that the new county hall in Wexford cost €40m.

Independent Cllr Eddie O’Meara declared that he was totally opposed to the merger and pointed to the abolition of the old health boards to create the HSE as an an example of how an amalgamation didn’t save money. And like Cllr McCarthy he had a dim view of experts, who would be appointed to the implementation group. “It will be a few people who think they are authorities on local government. In fact, I doubt if they know where some villages are in South Tipperary,” he complained.