Minister faces legal challenge on abolishing town councils

Environment Minister Phil Hogan’s proposal to abolish town councils is facing a legal challenge.

The Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland (AMAI) — the representative body for town councils — is considering such a move while an East Cork town council is poised to proceed with its own, independent challenge should the representative body fail to do so.

AMAI director Tom Ryan says the organisation is giving “serious consideration” to a legal challenge, with the matter set to be “decided by the members” at its conference in New Ross next month.

Meanwhile, Midleton Town Council’s December meeting adopted Mayor Ted Murphy’s proposal to make a €50,00 provision in its draft budget to kick-start its own challenge should the AMAI not do so.

The council has invited the county’s other town councils and Cork four TDs to a special meeting in the Midleton Park Hotel on Monday, Jan 14.

“Someone has to take a stand against a blatant attempt to circumnavigate democracy,” said Mr Murphy whose council registered a €580,000 surplus in 2011 and is set to reduce its commercial rate for the third year in succession.

Mr Murphy feels any challenge is likely to culminate “in the councils and courts of the European Union” and “could take several years” to conclude.

He described the minister’s proposals as “contrary to the Principle of Subsidiarity in European law, contrary to the Provisions of the Treaty of Amsterdam, contrary to the Council of Europe Charter of Local Self Government and contrary to the Principles of Democracy and the provisions of the Constitution on which this State is founded”.

Under Mr Hogan’s “Putting People First” proposals, the country’s town councils will be replaced by municipal district councils from 2014.

These will see fewer members represent larger jurisdictions and effectively be subsidiaries of the county council rather than independent authorities.

The minister says the reforms will save the State €420 million over the next four years, an argument vehemently disputed by town councils.

The reform bill has yet to be passed by the Oireachtas with Sinn Féin spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin saying his party will oppose it.

It is as yet unclear whether the minister’s reforms would have to be placed on hold while the courts process a legal case against them.


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