County Tipperary will be particularly badly affected by the new Local Government Bill as seven local authorities will be abolished, Independent Deputy Seamus Healy told the Dáil.
These are Clonmel Borough Council, Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Tipperary, Templemore, Nenagh and Thurles town councils. North and South Tipperary county councils will be amalgamated.
“It is a tragedy to abolish a borough council in my hometown of Clonmel which led the fight against Cromwell and was the only town to defeat him, in 1648, led by the Mayor of the day, Mayor White and supported by Hugh Dubh O’Neill from Ulster,” he said. “The town and its council have many traditions and a long history. It is wrong to abolish town and borough councils because they represent our past and if we do not know where we came from we will hardly know where to go in the future.”
This Bill purported to be about putting people first and informing local government and local democracy, he said. It is nothing like that, it is about the destruction of local democracy.
“Local democracy is about the provision of local services to facilitate access for people to those services and indeed to public representatives,” he said. “The principle of subsidiarity suggests very strongly that local services should be provided as close as possible to the people that they serve. This Bill and the policy being pursued by this Government goes in the opposite direction. It is the story that big is supposed to be better, that centralisation is better, but we know that bigger is not better and neither is centralisation. The delivery of local services to people should be done at the lowest level possible, town level, across the country.”
Deputy Healy said the policy being pursued by the Government includes the reduction of council powers, as in the case of water services. It also reduces funding to local authorities. Over recent years €500 million has been taken out of the funding of local authorities. That started in 2011 with a 9% reduction, another 9% in 2012 and further reductions in 2013 and 2014, starving local authorities of funds and income to provide services.
“The Minister has taken €500 million out of local authority funding over the past number of years and heaped unfair taxes on local people. He has imposed the local property tax on ordinary people across this country, a tax the leader of Fine Gael said was morally wrong, unfair and unjust.”
Lowry concerned at non-redeployment of Tipp local authority staff
The decision made by Garda human resources, HR, not to proceed with a number of redeployments already agreed between the local authorities in County Tipperary and the offices of the Garda vetting unit was raised in the Dáil by Independent Deputy Michael Lowry.
These transfers had been negotiated and signed off on by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government but were later blocked by the Department of Justice and Equality, he said. Eight staff in total, six from South Tipperary County Council and two from North Tipperary County Council, had agreed to transfer to the Garda vetting unit and received a letter of offer confirming their transfer only to have the rug pulled from under them later to devastating effect. These employees believe they have been abandoned.
“The councils and the staff, in particular, are understandably disappointed and very aggrieved that the proposed redeployment opportunities were effectively withdrawn, particularly in view of the fact that they had already been issued with a formal contract of offer,” he said. “When the staff received these written offers, they began to make preparations for themselves and their families in the light of their new changed work circumstances. The late removal of this offer has had a devastating impact on the individuals and families concerned. Since their offers have been withdrawn, the staff in question have essentially been left in the dark with no information on whether the transfers could occur at a later date or where they will turn to from here. As a result of the amalgamation of the two local authorities in County Tipperary, discussions are under way internally on where the staff will be transferred and how the single authority will operate.”
Replying on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd said there are currently 136 whole-time equivalent civilian staff assigned to the vetting unit and upwards of 40 additional staff are to take up duty later this month on transfer from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This will bring the total number of staff to almost 180 compared to 93 last December. It is expected that when these staff are fully trained in early 2014, there will be a further reduction in processing times.
Minister O’Dowd said the Garda central vetting unit has sufficient resources available to it to provide an efficient and effective vetting service. In the event that additional or replacement resources are required in the future, the potential for the transfer of staff from the local authority can be further explored. Such a transfer would be dependent on the availability of the necessary sanctions and finance.