Fine Gael plan gives more power to councillors

A RADICAL new plan to give more powers to local councillors and give directly-elected mayors 100,000 a year is being drafted by Fine Gael.

The local government reform package is also proposing a reduction in the powers of city and county managers.

Fine Gael is also recommending the introduction of a community policing scheme to be controlled by city and county councils. Serious crime, such as murder and rape, would still be investigated by a specialist crime squad.

The party is also proposing the scrapping of health boards, fisheries boards and harbour boards and is calling for the establishment of a National Hospitals Board.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the continuing message he got from people on his nationwide tour was that local democracy had been seriously eroded. This has become more apparent since councillors lost their powers to set refuse charges and make waste management plans. Mr Kenny said it was time to reverse this trend.

“Fine Gael needs to provide the lead that will give power back to the people and that will decentralise Government in a real way,” he added.

While these proposals are still in draft form and have to be formally accepted by the Fine Gael parliamentary party, they are expected to form the basis of their local election campaign next year.

The most radical Fine Gael suggestion is that each city and county would have a directly-elected full-time mayor or council cathaoirleach, who would be paid a salary of about 100,000.

These would take over many of the powers now held by city and county managers, who would in turn be

redesignated as chief directors in charge of carrying out the directions of the elected councils.

This proposal was part of the Better Local Government reform package introduced by the previous Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats Coalition. But they did not put a figure on the amount the newly-elected mayors should be paid.

However, the proposal was scrapped by new Environment Minister Martin Cullen last October amid strong

criticism from the General Council of County Councils.

On housing, Fine Gael is proposing that county councils set up their housing land banks in every town and village and provide services for sites. It also wants the Director of Community Care to supervise a shared house ownership scheme that would be tailored to people’s needs.

Fine Gael is proposing that local government be funded by a combination of rates, charges and government grants and that a National Local Authorities Finance Agency be set up to advise government on how much local authorities should get.

The draft proposals will now be considered by the party’s councillors, TDs and senators. A final document will be presented at the party’s Árd Fheis.

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