Catering for more than 1m visitors annually means that Killarney must provide additional services, a challenge not facing towns with more static populations.
Traffic, parking, rubbish collection, environmental works, water, and sewage, to mention just a few issues, all create extra demands in a town that can see its 13,000 population treble during the peak tourist season.
Then there’s an ambassadorial role of the chain-wearing town mayor, who is expected to turn up regularly at conferences, exhibitions, and countless other functions to formally welcome people to Killarney.
And there’s the overall obligation to ensure the town always looks its best. Killarney Town Council led the way in the 1980s by introducing policies that led to the removal of neon-lit leprechauns and other tacky signage and the replacement of plastic shopfronts with traditional facades and more sober, artistic lettering.
Since then, work has been ongoing to improve the appearance of the town through the planting of trees and shrubs, floral decoration, and maintaining buildings and open spaces through the aegis of the highly successful Killarney Looking Good competition.
All this effort culminated in Killarney winning the top Tidy Towns’ award in 2011, with due credit going to council staff and, crucially, council funding, resulting in the transformation of Killarney in recent decades.
Taking all the above-mentioned factors into account, Killarney Town Council made a “special” case to Local Government Minister Phil Hogan not to execute the death warrant for an authority that has existed for 114 years. Mr Hogan, nonetheless, declined to meet a delegation from Killarney on the issue, leaving the nine-member council angry and disappointed. The council is to be replaced by an eight-member, municipal district council which will also represent Killarney’s hinterland.
Even at this late stage, nevertheless, there’s still a huge amount of uncertainty about what services will continue to be provided, or not provided, by the new district council.
Mayor Paddy Courtney, whose family has a long tradition on the council, has the dubious distinction of being the last mayor of Killarney.
“It’s an honour I’d much prefer not to have. It would be much better if the town council was allowed to continue,” he says.
“I think it’s a shame and a drastic mistake to abolish the council. Killarney is regarded as a tourism capital and is used for branding Ireland around the world, but we’re then ignored and not given the respect we deserve.”
Like all of his fellow councillors, Mr Courtney, who succeeded his late father, Michael, and brother, Hugh, believes the council will not be missed until it’s gone.
“Our council was focused on Killarney alone, but the district council will have a much wider area as it will take in all of east Kerry,” he says.
“Up to now, funding was earmarked specifically for the town, but there will be greater demands from other areas for available money and Killarney is likely to lose out.”
Mr Courtney is also unhappy with the lack of detailed information from top local authority management on exactly what services will remain in Killarney under the post-May regime of municipal districts. However, he believes the outdoor staff employed by the town council will remain in Killarney, which he welcomed. Planning, payment of accounts, payroll, human resources, and housing will be centralised to the Kerry County Council HQ, in Tralee, according to county manager Tom Curran, who retires in June.
However, Killarney Town Hall will continue to be the administrative centre for the new municipal district and the new district committee will have its bi-monthly meetings there.
Uncertainty regarding services remains, however, and Mr Curran said the reorganisation work is not yet complete and there are still issues to be resolved.
Killarney’s longest-serving councillor, Sean O’Grady, first elected in 1974, resigned from the Labour party in protest against austerity policies and the abolition of town councils.
He has described the decision to get rid of town councils as an “outrage and an abomination’’ against citizens living in urban areas.
Citing his 40-year unbroken service as a town councillor, Mr O’Grady argued that many worthwhile schemes, including a programme to tackle drugs and substance abuse in Kerry, would never have been initiated without the active involvement of Killarney councillors.
He further maintained the €16m Killarney Sports and Leisure Centre would never have been provided but for the town council.
The business community of Killarney is bemoaning the imminent demise of the council, which businesspeople regard as being critical to winning the top award and various gold medals in the Tidy Towns and in presenting Killarney’s best face to tourists.
“A very effective partnership had been built up between the council, the business sector, and the wider community and that three-way partnership is crucial to Killarney’s success, with the council being key to it all,’’ says Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism president Johnny McGuire.
“We’re now concerned to ensure Killarney continues to prosper in the future and that Killarney is given due recognition as the premier tourism resort in the country.”
Mr McGuire said the chamber, which has a sub-committee working on the impact of the council’s abolition, also wrote to Mr Hogan outlining its concerns, but did not receive a reply.
He said their fear now was that Killarney will suffer a loss of funding and ratepayers will end up paying more for fewer services.