Shortly afterwards the people of Cobh, Co Cork had to pursue a gruelling 10-year campaign to block Indaver from building an incinerator across the bay from their homes and schools, when the Fianna Fáil/PD government tried to railroad it through, via quangos, over the heads of the County Development Plan, the county manager and local residents’ wishes.
Similar fights with central power occurred in Rathdown and Boyne Valley. Then the whole country was obliged to vote twice on EU referenda when the Government didn’t like the result. Since 2011 Fine Gael began a programme, started by their predecessors, of dismantling local democracy and centralising even more power in government hands.
The household charge which was supposed to be collected by, and for, local authorities, somehow ended up in the hands of the Local Government Management Agency, an FG-appointed quango in Dublin. Education grants, once handled efficiently by the local councils and VECs with years of experience, were transferred to Student Universal Support Ireland, yet another quango. Water charges were taken away from local councils and passed to a semi-private company, Irish Water, probably so that it can be sold off along with the rest of the family silver in a few years’ time.
Most recently the issuing of driving licences, once possible over the counter the same day at your local motor tax office was handed to another quango – the Road Safety Authority – and now takes at least four weeks, which we are told ‘is an improved service for the customer’.
Fine Gael have even reduced the number of councils. All this from the party that promised to ‘reduce the number of quangos’. What do the Irish people think is the ultimate message in all of this? The overall picture is that more and more power is being stripped away from local democracy and centralised in unelected quangos. If this is not in total breach of the letter of 20th Amendment of the Constitution, it is certainly in breach of the spirit. And what do the people, the source of sovereign authority in this State — for the moment – think should be done about this?