The county structure must be one of the greatest inhibitors to good governance in Ireland. In local government we take the view that every county is an island. Hence every county wants ‘its own’ of whatever another county has – an airport, a university, a motorway, a railway line, a hospital, etc.
This scale of misplaced ambition is backed at a local level by politicians who spend as much time as possible raising issues that are best discussed in a comedy club or a pub.
In my own region I can cite examples of Clare councillors believing with a passion that Shannon airport is theirs alone – or because the University of Limerick has a few patches of land in Clare, the name of the university should be changed. Recently, a Limerick city councillor compared some of the towns of his county to parts of the body he would rather not visit. Whatever rage people generally may feel against the national body politic, there is enormous anger and despair at the role and actions of local councilors in Limerick. It is not unknown that Limerick city faces many challenges. These are now so great that the Government has put in place two regeneration agencies, a jobs taskforce, a large garda presence and a local governance committee.
This local governance committee, under the chairmanship of Denis Brosnan, recently submitted its report. It did so after being requested to meet Clare representatives in a hotel that is technically in Clare, rather than in the city.
No submission from the Mid-West Regional Authority was received because its councillor members thought that the making of one on the future governance of the region’s capital was too sensitive to consider.
Having considered the submissions it did get, the committee has come out with an unwavering recommendation that the way forward is for Limerick to be managed by one local authority.
The recent Local Government Efficiency Review Group report recommends the same course of action may be best for other authorities. If the Government is even half serious about reforming local government, then you would think it would endorse the Brosnan recommendations. Limerick is already one county. With only a modest population of 190,000 across the entire county, and with no local government structures lower than county or city level, Limerick is possibly the easiest and most logical county in which to implement reform. A much needed €20m in savings has also been identified.
Rather than consider the report’s merits the councillors at City Hall have begun to spin elements of the report to cause misinformation among the public. They say the role of the mayor would be abolished. The report does not say that. They say the history of the city will be tossed aside. Not possible. History is history. They say one organisation could not manage the entire county.
Any local government organisation that believes this is clearly not fit for purpose. Most depressing in all their arguments is that they are all focused on themselves and the past. Worthy local councillors (and for this issue I include local TDs) should have as a priority those who are living.
They should be working to ensure the future of their community and not themselves. Due to lack of care and representation of its own citizens, the governance of Limerick was reformed in the past. For the same reasons its needs reform again.
For the sake of the future of Limerick, which has an impact on Ireland beyond itself, I suggest a new treaty be signed on the famous stone and let Limerick as one county and city move forward.