Yesterday Fianna Fáil launched their formal policy position on local government reform. The timing of the launch comes just as Phil Hogan and government prepare legislation to enact its own local government reform proposals.
The template for this has been the “Putting People First” document which was launched in October 20122 and essentially a blueprint for a new local government structure. While the document has come for criticism not least on issues such as funding and accountability it does still represent a radical break from the current position local government finds itself in.
The Fianna Fáil proposals are wide ranging and include the following principal proposals:
- Directly Elected Mayors across every city in the country and subsequently every local county
- Executive powers for Directly Elected Mayors, who will act as champions for their area across the country
- A new Cabinet-style system to replace council policy groups offering greater accountability & a greater role in shaping local policy;-
- New voluntary Community Councils to represent areas with no Town Councils
- Enhancement of Town Councils across towns with a population of over 7,500
- Local referendums on major local issues, such as Local Area Plans
- New anti-corruption plans, including enhanced auditing system, complete transparency on planning issues, mandatory declaration of interest & a greater role for SIPO in local government
- Enhanced supports for local businesses, including new competitive funding pot for enterprise initiatives and new local credit facilities for SMEs.
While Fianna Fáil’s headline plans do represent radical change the are a number of issues that need to be considered. The first is cost, rolling out directly elected mayors with cabinets will undoubtedly cost a considerable amount of money and there is little evidence to suggest that communities are clamoring for this type of reform.
What is also surprising is Fianna Fáil’s support for Town Councils and indeed the expansion of the Town Council structure. One of the justified criticisms of Town Councils has been the duplication of function between them and the County Councils. Why propose expanding this duplication?
Also the plan to increase Town Councils for populations over 7,500 does not take into consideration large urban areas within existing councils. For example would Swords qualify to have a Town Council? Would Donabate? Would Santry?
It is worth remembering that when the increase in the number of councillors was announced for Councils such as Fingal and Dublin City, Fianna fail representatives condemned this increase. Now it seems their party actually wants to increase the number of councillors from its current level.