LAST February Environment Minister John Gormley asked businessman Denis Brosnan to chair the Limerick Local Government Committee to consider how local government might best serve the needs of the Mid-West.
Mr Brosnan and his committee, none of whom were paid for their efforts, were asked to suggest how local government structures might be reconfigured to try to rejuvenate a region devastated by job losses, stagnation and understandable pessimism.
Mr Gormley probably did not anticipate sugar-coated generalities when he approached Mr Brosnan – just as well, as he did not get them.
It is worth remarking that Mr Brosnan might not have been the first name on traditional Fianna Fáil ministers’ list for the job because of what he might say.
Fianna Fáil themselves would have ordinarily preferred a house-trained, non-confrontational retainer rather than someone with the gravitas to rock the boat and the self-confidence and credibility to do it.
Mr Brosnan’s report, completed in a business-like six months, does more than rock the boat; it more or less scuttles it. His proposals confirm what has been obvious to anyone who cared to look for decades – our local government is too big, cumbersome and no longer reflects the world it operates in. Its very scale and inflexibility is an impediment, no matter how committed or able local government staff are. If all of this is true for the Mid-West region then how much more so must it be for the greater Dublin and Cork regions?
Though focussed on Limerick and Clare, the report could be applied to a greater or lesser degree right across the country. It proposes amalgamating Limerick’s city and county councils and incorporating a section of Clare under that new entity’s remit. This proposal also advocates replacing two management structures with one, suggesting this could save €20 million every year.
It is proposed that after the 2014 local elections a council of about 30 members would replace current arrangements, thereby shedding about 15 seats from the Limerick authorities alone.
If these suggestions seem familiar it is because they are. They reflect, in tenor at least, some made by Cormac McCarthy’s An Bord Snip Nua report 14 months ago. As in so many other instances the McCarthy report, like the 1974 Kenny report which might have saved us from at least part of out current crisis, is fading from public memory even as the crisis that provoked it grows more threatening every day.
Let us hope that the efforts of the Limerick Local Government Committee are not dumped in what by now must be a vast library of good ideas consigned to oblivion because they suggest making some of the people with the power to implement them redundant.
Tomorrow over two million French workers are expected to take to the streets over a proposal to move the legal retirement age from 60 to 62. They will give public expression to the ferocious anger simmering just under the surface right across this country. Already our patience – or passivity – has been mocked by Greeks outraged by the collapse of their economy.
Reports like Brosnan’s and McCarthy’s map a partial solution to our terrible difficulties and if politicians continue to ignore or, at best, long-finger them, they cannot be surprised if that patience turns into something far more undeniable and potentially destructive.
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