Abolished town councils unlikely to return

Town councils are highly unlikely to return as the Government has received recommendations not to re-establish them, the Irish Examiner has learned.

There has been much criticism of then environment minister Phil Hogan’s decision to abolish the councils in 2013, as well as increased calls for their return.

However, two reports commissioned by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, which are to be published later this month, are to recommend against their return, according to a senior government source.

The news comes amid a standoff within Government over the future size of local area constituencies.

The Cabinet will today discuss a memorandum on overhauling boundaries, ahead of changes for the 2019 local elections.

Fine Gael ministers are under fire for wanting changes to reduce the sizes of local areas. But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the measures yesterday, saying they are needed because local councillors, in some cases, are currently representing areas the size of a city.

Speaking in west Dublin at a social housing launch, he said: “We do have some around the country that are just too big, that are the size of half a county for example and that doesn’t make any sense.

“And even here in Dublin West where we are, we have seven and eight-seaters where councillors represent 50,000 people. That’s not a local neighbourhood, that’s almost a city. So what we need is to put aside political interest here and have boundaries that reflect the communities that people actually live in and that’s what local government should be all about.”

The Government says the new boundary structures will be set by an independent commission and that party political interests must be set aside when it comes to the changes. But Independent Alliance ministers and councillors are concerned about boundaries being shrunk, saying this will benefit larger parties and that the Government is trying to “gerrymander” local areas. But the Taoiseach said efforts to widen local areas before had failed to benefit smaller parties.

“The reason why we had a big increase in the number of nine and 10-seaters five years ago was very much at the behest of the Labour Party who believed in doing so at the time, that they would help more Labour councillors to hold their seats. That actually didn’t happen.”

Mr Murphy also said proposed changes would give more powers back to local authorities and reforms would make boundaries smaller, to make them more meaningful. However, the prospect of areas being reduced in size or any failure to return town councils for communities has angered some parties. The Alliance is determined to have their say at Cabinet today. Labour leader Brendan Howlin also admitted allowing the abolition of town councils was “a big mistake of our time in Government”.

Fianna Fáil local government spokesman Shane Cassells said 80 town councils, which had served their communities extremely well over 115 years, were wiped away at the stroke of a pen.

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