Sligo Borough Council (SBC) elected members are among a group of town and borough councillors that have made an 11th-hour plea to Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan not to abolish their local authority. SBC has been in existance for 400 years since it was granted a Royal Charter by King James I in 1613.
The publication of long-delayed plans for local government reform is expected next week. The Minister is due to address the annual conference of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland (AMAI), which represents town, borough and city councils, in Ballinasloe, Co Galway tonight, Friday 14 September.
The Irish Times reported that last July Minister Hogan said at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co Donegal, it was “extremely likely” the number of local authorities and councillors would be cut.
However, the AMAI president Ted Howlin said Mr Hogan had given an assurance he was not going to abolish town councils.
“Over a number of years, local government has been decimated and powers have been removed from local councillors. What we want to see is power given back and I expect town councils to be part of the new arrangements,” he said.
Councillors were “extremely frustrated” by the long delay in publishing the reform programme, added Mr Howlin, a brother of Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin.
“I would like to see what he is proposing. Then we will be meeting as a body and formulating a response, but for the moment I am taking the man at his word that he intends to keep town councils.”
It is believed that Mr Hogan’s proposals would result in councillor numbers being cut by at least one-third.
Town councils will “die a death of 1,000 cuts” unless councillors fight for their survival, a leading local government consultant said.
Councillors had a great opportunity to strengthen local democracy but only if they stood up and fought for it, said Seán Ó Riordáin, director of the Public Policy Advisors Network.He said it was his understanding that the Government was beginning to accept the argument for “town and environs” government – a municipal system of authorities – and this could provide a stronger system of local government by councillors.
“If you lie back, expect to get run over. But if you use your voice I think you have a national political environment that would be willing to listen,” he said.
The concept of moving away from centralised government back to local “citizen-centred” democracy had gained traction in Europe, where there was a movement back to municipal government. The savings arising from getting rid of town councils were very limited, he said, and would be “in the low tens of millions in the best-case scenario”.
When compared with the loss of local decision-making, these savings were not worth it and, international experience had shown, would cost money in the long term, he said.
“The problem is that when you break a system it’s very difficult to put it back together. Mistakes were made by other countries and time and again we go down the same road and make the same mistakes,” he said.
The loss of town-level democracy would result in an inability to influence decisions at a national level; a loss of local leadership; and the loss of a reservoir of potential candidates for national politics, he added.
Sligo Borough Council has twelve councillors, eight of whom also serve on Sligo County Council. In the 2009 An Bórd Snip Nua report the author, economist Colm McCarthy recommended that both Sligo councils, borough and county, along with Leitrim County Council be abolished and one authority be established to manage the affairs of both counties.
It will be known next week if Sligo Borough Council will feature in the next local elections which are scheduled for June 2014.See Related Articles aboveAlways be first with Sligo news - Never miss a story - Join us on Facebook