The ever-changing landscape of Ireland’s local government

Phil Hogan...a lot to answer for.
Phil Hogan...a lot to answer for.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

Phil Hogan has a lot to answer for; water charges; the Household Charge (remember that? It’s now the local property tax); the ill-fated referendum to abolish the Seanad. And then of course, there was his so-called reform of local government that, as time goes on, seems more and more like unhelpful meddling.

There’s no doubt that local government needed to be reformed. Most of the town councils around the State were established over a century ago and remained unchanged despite all the societal changes that took place since then.

You had towns that were big and prosperous in the past that had gone into serious decline and no longer had big populations. Athy in Kildare is a good example of that.

They retained their town councils even though former villages which had now become commuting towns had no such local council. There are loads of these places in Meath and Kildare (Ratoath, Ashbourne, Celbridge, Sallins etc).

There are quite a few in Galway too – Oranmore, Claregalway, Moycullen.

Sure we were going through a fairly sharp recession and we had far too many councillors. So there was a logical argument in removing over 800 councillors from the equation – it also saved a little money.

I’m not so sure if the municipal districts that have replaced them (made up of clusters of county councillors) have been quite as effective. There is something compelling about having democracy in action in even the smallest places, even when people are doing it on a voluntary basis.

There were some other changes that Hogan introduced that kind of made sense. He got rid of the two councils in Tipperary (North and South Riding) that had remained solely for historical reasons.

He also began merging city and county councils. He began with Waterford and then went to Limerick. We will return to that theme a little later.

To compensate for the loss of town councils, he increased the number of councillors on county councils – to a maximum of 40. Thus Galway County Council has 39 councillors while Galway City saw its representation go up from 15 to 18. The only exceptions to that were in Dublin where the city council has almost 70 members – far too much even for a city of its size.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.