One local Government better for Limerick but more progress needed

Amalgamating Limerick city and county councils has had its issues, but it should result in better local administration, writes Mid-West Correspondent Jimmy Woulfe

One local Government better for Limerick but more progress needed

There is no doubt many problems which beset the greater Limerick City area are being resolved in a more co-ordinated fashion

ONE YEAR on from Limerick City and County joining as one in local government, the regime has slowly begun to bed down.

Like all things new, lots of eggs have been broken to try and assemble a proper omelette.

Up to last year, the city and council came under two different authorities, Limerick City Council and Limerick County Council.

The city headquarters was housed at City Hall in Merchant’s Quay and the county headquarters at County Hall in Dooradoyle, next to the Crescent Shopping Centre.

READ MORE: LIMERICK: Battle to reinvigorate Limerick city centre ongoing .

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The dysfunctional performance of local government hit many areas when it came to the proper governance of the capital of the Mid-West.

The city had run out of space for housing and was finding it harder and harder to meet ends meet financially. And the city suburbs contained many huge rate-yielding industrial zones which went to the county council.

One simple road project spelt out how the city/county mix was not working.

Limerick County Council decided that a bus lane should be opened up in the suburbs to speed up traffic in and out of the city. However, the city council did not buy into that plan and the new bus lane came to abrupt halt at the boundary.

The Crescent Shopping Centre was at the centre of another left hand/right hand approach to planning.

The county council gave the go ahead for a major extension to the shopping centre.

But the city council objected claiming it would further hit city centre trading and also went against the retail plan for the mid-west region which sees the city centre as a critical retail hub. The objection was upheld and the extension which was to house a new Marks & Spencer outlet fell by the wayside.

Under the new council, there is no doubt many problems which beset the greater Limerick City area are being resolved in a more co-ordinated fashion.

To get to where we are now owes a lot to Denis Brosnan, the former head of the Kerry Group. He headed the group tasked to drawing up the master plan.

A major hurdle was getting the politicians who sat on the two old councils on side.

There were 28 members on the county council and 17 on the city council. Many were worried a new greater Limerick council would see a slashing of numbers.

Mr Brosnan’s plan came up with a 40-member council, five less than the combined former councils.

READ MORE: LIMERICK: Battle to reinvigorate Limerick city centre ongoing .   but

On the administrative side the new chief executive, Conn Murray had to deal with workers formerly employed by the two previous councils and weld them into effective corporate body.

While there are industrial relations issues, there has been no major road block to an onward evolving process.

Members of the new council have found it hard to get to grips with the new setup.

The singe 40-member council meets just once every two months and the six districts meet in one a month.

The main council 40-member meetings have already turned into lengthy meetings which very often stray off into areas which the council has no remit.

Councillors, due to the numbers on the new council, are also further frustrated that coverage they used get in local and national media has considerably diminished.

They also claim their dealings with officialdom have become more unwieldy and they are no longer able to maintain old informal contacts.

Some councillors also claim they are being more and more sidelined in the decision making process. One said: “The CEO meets with an economic group, none of them elected representatives, who include big names. Many of us believe that this group is now the real power-house of the new Limerick City and County Council and that the elected representatives are in the back seat when it comes to much of the decision making process. We get the same message from some of the staff who tell us they are not consulted as much as they were in the previous regimes.”

At the outset the new council got itself off to a messy start over a simple title.

The chair of the former county council was known as cathaoirleach. And the city council was chaired by the mayor of Limerick.

When the new 40 member council assembled they decided to stick with the Irish title cathaoirleach, a decision which was to cause problems.

The council members are drawn from three metropolitan districts comprising 21 members and three municipal districts in the county area comprising 19 members.

Each of three municipal districts has their own chairperson and monthly meetings.

The three metropolitan districts meet as one, once a month, and the group is chaired by the person with the title mayor of Limerick Metropolitan District.

At the first meeting of the new 40-member council Fianna Fáil’s Kevin Sheahan, through a pact with Fine Gael, was elected cathaoirleach.

A namesake of his, Michael Sheahan of Fine Gael, was elected mayor of Limerick Metropolitan district.

To the annoyance of Fianna Fáil, they saw that the new cathaoirleach, Kevin Sheahan, was not getting the recognition that was his due as numero uno.

Mayor Michael Sheahan was the main man in the public eye and getting the limelight at public events, particularly in the city.

To sort out the confusion over the pecking order of the office holders, a meeting was called to change the titles.

The Irish title cathaoirleach was dropped and replaced by Mayor Limerick City and County.

The Limerick solution to the Limerick problem has resulted in Cllr Kevin Sheahan being Mayor of Limerick City and County and Cllr Michael Sheahan being Mayor of Limerick Metropolitan District.

The omelette is still in the making and lots of more eggs will no doubt need to be broken.

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