Ask anyone what we need more of in this country and you are likely to hear a diversity of answers, from more health care funding, more supports for families in need, more funding for disability services, to more teachers, more nurses and doctors…What you are unlikely to hear anyone say is that we need more politicians or greater layers of political bureaucracy.
It was surprising then to read a proposal from Fianna Fáil this week calling for the radical reform of local government as an alternative to the Government’s plan of abolishing town councils. Fianna Fáil’s proposals centre on the need to strengthen local government as a core part of wider transformation of the political system.
But, what makes them think we really need more representation? As it stands in Galway, we have 30 Galway County Councillors, 15 Galway City Councillors, six senators, five Galway West TDs, four Galway East TDs. We also have town councils in Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Tuam.
To put that in context, according to the latest Central Statistics Office report, there are 250,653 people in County Galway, of which 75,529 reside in Galway City and 175,124 reside in Galway County. That’s one local representative per 2,881 people and that’s to say nothing of our three MEPs, who represent our needs at European level.
Granted, as of next year the town councils are to be abolished and only 12 new seats are to be created on the local authorities, nine in Galway County and three in Galway City. But, that will work out at about 3,481 people per local representative. That might sound like a large workload, but how often do you contact your local representative about an issue?
Fianna Fáil’s local government reform proposals would see a directly elected Mayor with executive powers for Galway City; the retention of Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Tuam Town Councils; new voluntary Community Councils to represent areas with no Town Councils; local referendums on major local issues, such as Local Area Plans; and a new Cabinet-style system to replace council policy groups offering greater accountability and a greater role in shaping local policy…
The proposals, they say, would see “greater transparency and accountability within the local government structure and enhanced community engagement in decisions affecting the local area”.
This at a time when neither council seemingly has enough money to cut the hedges on the main thoroughfares or fill potholes on many of our roads. What people want is more funding for services and less people sitting around discussing ad nauseam what should be done.