Brosnan faces an uphill battle to save the mid-west

THE report of the Limerick Local Government Committee was one of the most radical ever drawn up to overhaul dysfunctional local government in this country.

Not surprisingly – given that the report chairman was Denis Brosnan – it contains no fudging.

After all, a young Denis Brosnan sat in a caravan in a field outside Listowel in 1970 with a few others and from there set out on a mission that was to lead to the development of the biggest food ingredients corporation in the world, which now employs over 20,000.

Unlike Glen Campbell, there weren’t loads of compromises on the road to his horizons as Kerry Group supremo.

He couldn’t afford to deviate from a straight line.

It wasn’t just “let’s do it” but more “get it done”. And “done right”, at that.

Given that he and four others – Maurice Carr, John Cullen, Brendan Tuohy and Michelle Wilson– were appointed by Environment Minister John Gormley last February to examine and make recommendations on the overall governance of the greater Limerick area, the report’s completion at this time is, in itself, a huge achievement.

And it is a document that will be pored over, not just in the mid-west but throughout the entire local government system.

In a nutshell, Brosnan says the mid-west is on a steep downward curve and urgent action needs to be taken to streamline local government, as a starting point to help draw in industry, salvage Shannon airport and re-ignite its flagging tourism sector.

But unlike his days in Kerry, the journey of the Denis Brosnan report will be far from a straight line.

At the launch Mr Brosnan was in no doubt that the success or failure in getting the proposals of the report implemented will depend on popular opinion. In other words: politicians in the region.

The central aim of the plan is for the setting up of one Limerick City and County Council with one management replacing Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council and their two administrations.

As a newly elected Greater Council could not be formed until the next local elections in 2014, Mr Brosnan proposes that an interim Greater Council would consist of the current combined membership of both councils, which totals 45. And to cater for the 3,000 Clare residents that the plan wants to bring into the new Limerick area, one member of Clare County Council would be added to the new Limerick City and County Council.

This interim arrangement may not present a huge hurdle to negotiations.

But what is to come after 2014 may spook some politicians.

For the 2014 local elections, it is envisaged that the new council would be made up of a number in the region of about 30 members.

So the current membership of the two Limerick councils can see straight away there would be up to 15 less seats up for grabs.

A very interesting proposal in the Brosnan plan is that one mayor be elected for the full five-year term of the council. Mr Brosnan says this is necessary for continuity without having the position of mayor rotate every 12 months.

Mr Brosnan believes that grasping the local government nettle will be a start in order to tackle the problems of a region which he says is now ‘dying’.

His report states: “The (Limerick Local Government) Committee acknowledges that changes to local government arrangements will not, in isolation, present a solution to the many and diverse challenges facing Limerick, the Gateway and the Mid-West Region.

“However, local government in Limerick will be a key enabler of success and the greater its capacity to lead, champion, represent, innovate and fulfil its other responsibilities, the greater the likelihood of success.”

John Gormley knows better than most how disjointed local government in Limerick is at present.

He was brought up in Corbally and worked during his school holidays in Gus O’Driscoll’s bar.

During the serious floods earlier this year, which threatened parts of Corbally, he visited the scene and saw local voluntary workers and the Civil Defence keep the waters at bay.

While the Limerick Civil Defence headquarters was located less than a mile away, the Civil Defence operation in the Limerick suburbs was being managed from Ennis, as the area was outside Limerick city and in Co Clare.

Supporters of a boundary extension will say this is a clear example of the need for such a move.

Opponents will say the Clare-managed operation worked and kept the waters at bay.

Denis Brosnan says if the report’s recommendations become politically diluted, it is those who will continue to lose their jobs who will suffer as a result.

The chairman says he and his committee have done their job.

And he is convinced that things cannot remain as they are.

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