A Special ReportSLIGO GETS
a new type of Mayor under the reform programme for local government announced by the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hogan, yesterday afternoon (Tuesday).
The new Mayor post in the county council will NOT serve all of the county, early indications from the Minister's 218 page policy document suggests. The current 37 local authority seats across Sligo town and county would be be halved -- Sligo County Council to lose seven seats and Sligo Borough Council to lose all 12 seats.
This means that the system of three wards -- east, north and west ward -- which has existed in Sligo town for most elections in the past 100 years will be abolished.For the first time since June 1974, all residents living in Sligo Borough would vote for same set of candidates.
(There were 31 candidates on the ballot that year - debutante Declan Bree was first name and the late Francy Walsh of Riverside was bottom place on the ballot).
The new Sligo County Council will, most likely, have 18 members. It would be funded by service charges, the Minister indicates.
The changes were first proposed in 2009 in the 'Bord Snip' report by Colm McCarthy...but were NOT part of the current Programme for Government approved by Labour and Fine Gael delegates, many of them councillors.
The changes would be effective from June 2014. Pact Mayor Marcella McGarry, due for election in June 2013, would be the last such office holder in the Borough, if the Minister's plan proceeds.New Body
Within the new County Council configuration there will be a new area and body called the Sligo Municipal District.
That body must have a minimum of six elected members, or a maximum of nine elected councillors, under the Minister's plans. The figures remain to be decided.Those members -- and those alone -- would elect the new Mayor of Sligo....not the full County Council.
Such Mayor would chair meetings of the new Sligo Municipal District. Its members would also be members of the new County Council.
Before any of this can happen, Minister Hogan's document, titled ''Putting People First'' would require detailed -- and complex -- legislation to be voted through the Dail.That is not a 'given' or certainty; local councillors are the eyes and ears of TDs and if enough of them say 'No' the full range of changes might not happen.
The final number of new council seats in each county also remains to be fixed. Frequency of meetings remains to be confirmed.
In Sligo, there seems very little 'wriggle room' in yesterday's document to vary from a final figure of 18 seats on the new county council.
An independent commission will adjudicate on that issue.Mirror Strategies
In line with current practice, it is likely that such commission can/will receive submissions from political parties and individuals.
There will be intense debate within political parties and community groupings arising from the Minister's proposals, which turn all conventional 'wisdom' on its head.Candidate focus could move to 'mirror' party strategies at national level. Recent years has seen a number of high-profile broadcast media with profile among women voters emerge as winners.
For instance, Minister Hogan's detailed proposal describes 'tolerances' which must be observed, ie number of population per each councillor on average.
A small number of derogations from that may -- emphasise, may -- be permitted in, say, counties like Leitrim.
There, if the 'tolerance' figures were strictly observed, Leitrim County Council would lose close on 70% of seats and they would be left with a new Council structure of just six to seven seats for the whole county.No county mergers
In Sligo, it seems certain there would be only three maximum, more likely two, electoral areas for the whole county in the new set-up.
County boundaries have been preserved right across the country. Rumours that councils such as Sligo and Leitrim would be merged proved to be unfounded.
The impact of that in Sligo would be significant. It would mean no part of north Sligo can be ''hived off'' into north Leitrim, or to south Donegal.
North Sligo is too sparsely populated to make a new electoral area on its own.
Its physical placement suggests that north Sligo -- all the way to Bunduff Bridge -- will be, more likely than not, part of the new Sligo Municipal District.Thereby, residents of Grange, Drumcliffe, Carney, Cliffoney, Mullaghmore, Castlegal would be voting for the same candidate -- and have the same Mayor -- as people in Carraroe, Sligo town estates, Strandhill etc.
The new Mayor of Sligo would be chosen by councillors representing those areas, not by all county councillors.
That line-up would also certainly mean that Sligo would have just TWO electoral areas of nine seats each, rather than three areas with six seats each.
The physical placement of west Sligo -- Enniscrone, Easkey etc - creates the same problem as the north of the county, exacerbated again by sparse population.
That would seem to suggest a second nine-seater representing all of 'Sligo County,' with voters in Tubbercurry, Ballymote, Tireragh etc voting -- for the first time ever -- for a single set of candidates.Casualty Cases
Such configuration would seem to encourage, for example, former TD for all those areas Eamonn Scanlon, if he plans to re-launch his political career in 2014.
Given Minister Hogan's cull of seat numbers, it is safe to predict there will be 'casualty' cases -- at least one and maybe two -- in each current county council electoral area. Sitting county councillors will lose seats in the 2014 elections.
The safest bet for punters is that Margaret Gormley, Independent, will still have the safest seat in Sligo politics, local or national!'New Baby'
Minister Hogan is very protective of his new 'baby' just yet. On RTE last night he was reminding his Prime Time interviewer there are 218 pages to be absorbed before any criticism starts.
That is fair comment.
It is also fair comment to observer that Minister Hogan's Department 'road tested' the new model of local democracy with a procession of detailed leaks over the past year.
Most notably and most accurately, the Mail on Sunday
predicted in a lead story last February -- attributed to Department briefings -- that all town councils would be abolished, including Borough Councils.
The Minister also plans to remove the right of councillors to direct executives to grant certain planning permissions, using Section Four of the City and County Managers Act of 1955.
It could slowly fester into the sort of ''blank cheque'' to planners that will cause Fine Gael 'grief' in years to come. Removing all scrutiny from planners seems poorly thought through.
The HSE continues to be a millstone around the neck of Fianna Fáil leader, Mr Martin. It was he who midwifed the disaster-prone HSE structure when Minister for Health in 2004.
The HSE was founded, backed by national media trumpets, 'to take all decision making out of local politicians hands'.......the rest of that fiasco is history.
In addition to local government reform, the Programme for Government promises to abolish County Manager posts.
In lime with that it would seem logical that there will also be a cull where Councils have appointed multiple ''Acting Directors of Services,'' ie Deputy County Managers.
Finally, Minister Hogan indicated on RTE Six O One News last night that he had not yet decided whether defeated and retiring councillors will be entitled to severance packages, such as are currently paid.Three Key Documents
Three key national documents in successive recent years have discussed - sometimes with contradictions - the status of elected Councils and of County Managers:-
1. Recommendation Number 27 in the 2009 Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes recommended to: "....rationalise the number of local authority structures into a single tier by discontinuing town councils and regional authorities, and reduce the remaining single tier from 34 city and county councils to 22 local authorities....." (Reference: Report Group headed by Colm McCarthy and in common parlance referred to as ''An Bord Snip" or "The Colm McCarthy Report." Volume One - Table 2.3 titled "Proposed Rationalisation of State agencies and other bodies/structures).
2. The Local Government Efficiency Review Group one year later in July 2010 made 106 various recommendations (Ref: pages 19-27). It discussed and recommended that that the planning, roads and housing functions of town councils should be transferred to their respective county council.
It also recommended that the rating function should be removed from town councils. It set a timeline prior to the next local elections due in 2014 for policy and organisational changes to be implemented. (Ref: page 7).The Efficiency Review Group noted that it "did not have a mandate to consider the number of local councils, or the number of local elected members," but, instead, recommended that the financial supports to local elected representatives, which had recently been reduced, are kept under review "to ensure they remain reasonable and proportionate." (Ref: page 7).
In the sphere of local government staffing the Review Group proposed "as soon as may be" that staffs in Sligo and Leitrim city and county councils be paired as "joint administrative areas" to facilitate greater economies of scale in the provision of local services. One County Manager was suggested for each such paired area. (Ref: page 8).
3. The Programme for Government, negotiated between senior members of Fine Gael and Labour in March 2011 - went in a diametrically different direction than the two previous Group reports. It undertook that County Manager posts would be abolished.
"We will abolish the position of County Manager and replace it with that of Chief Executive, with a limited range of executive functions. The primary function of the Chief Executive will be to facilitate the implementation of democratically decided policy" (Ref: Reforming Local Government").
The Programme for Government, approved by both Government party faithful at special delegate conferences, made no mention or hint whatever of such cull of elected councillors as proposed by Minister Hogan yesterday afternoon.
It remains to be seen if 'Big Phil' can pull it off.
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