Killarney makes a stand in battle to safeguard town councils

LOCAL authorities in Kerry are taking the lead nationally in an attempt to safeguard the future of town councils.

Killarney Town Council in particular is determined to point the way for theretention of the 115-year-old statutory body.

Serving a population of 14,000, the nine-member council in Killarney has fully backed a decision to fight for its survival — and for the enhancement of its powers in advance of an autumn white paper being prepared by local government minister Phil Hogan.

Councillors in Killarney say there is a strong suspicion among the country’s 75 town councils that their elected bodies — the lowest tier of democracy but the one most in direct contact with the electorate — will be sacrificed to save the blushes of other public representatives.

Ireland has one of the largest parliaments proportionate to population size, officially the 26th-highest ratio of national parliament members per vote — tying with Lithuania.

However, the Republic has one of the lowest representations of all European countries when it comes to local councils.

A recent paper by Dr Aodh Quinlivan and Darragh Mehigan of UCC for the AMAI — the association representing town councils — found that while countries such as France and Germany had a councillor for every 118 and every 350 people respectively, Ireland was at the bottom of the barrel with one councillor for every 2,500 people.

It puts this country just ahead of Britain, where recent city riots were put down to a lack of contact with local representatives, some councillors in Killarney pointed out.

Arguments in the McCarthy report and by the Local Government Efficiency Review Group in favour of eliminating town councils on financial grounds were vague, mayor of Killarney, Sean Counihan said.

“Nobody has found town councils to be inefficient,” he said, after it emerged €6m could be saved by abolishing town councils.

However, most of the councils are largely self-financing and, furthermore when it came to using its powers, Killarney was one of the first town councils in Ireland to recognise the downturn and cut rates, the mayor said.

At a special meeting, councillors said “Killarney has high standards” attributable to its rich rates base. “But a transfer of powers will see the money collected in Killarney filling potholes in Rathmore,” one councillor commented.

To reinforce the town council’s case, the local business sector is now being mobilised with a strong statement from Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.

Donnacha Galvin, chief executive of the chamber, said: “Even before the recent fiscal constraints, local authorities would readily acknowledge the difficulties faced in securing approval and/or funding for specific local (county and town) projects from central government.

“What we don’t want is to further exacerbate matters by further reducing or eliminating local autonomous decision-making. Killarney has always been fortunate in that it has an energetic and committed local authority.

“Its elected members and executives know first-hand what is required for Killarney and for Kerry and, while on occasion we may hold differing views or positions on specific matters, in the vast majority of cases we would share a united and concerted view of what needs to be done for the benefit of the local community both socially and economically.”

Instead of eliminating local government bodies such as Killarney, the chamber, he said, was seeking “a strengthening of their fund -generating and decision -making abilities and not a withdrawal of bodies or powers”.

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