All posts by Marcia D'Alton

Alternative to proposed Local Government Reform

Whilst the inadequacy of Irish institutions in handling finance is well proven, consider basic distribution channel theory.  In distribution, the term “middleman” describes an intermediary between a producer and an end customer.  The middleman adds an extra step in the distribution chain, puts a mark-up on for himself and generally adds cost.  It is regarded as good to eliminate the middleman.

A middleman without direct link to a producer has lost his raison d’être.  He simply swims aimlessly, clutching at any marketable merchandise.  His mere existence is an unnecessary expense.  In Irish local government, there is only one middleman: the County Council.  And elimination of this expense is entirely feasible.

The structure for sustainable, bottom-up local government in this country is already in place.  Rural districts were created in the Local Government Act 1894.  Typically, they looked like a doughnut shaped ring around a town.  The town was managed by the then equivalent of the Town Council whilst the affairs of the rural district were the responsibility of the Rural District Council.  Each had an extensive statutory role.  When Rural District Councils were abolished by the Local Government Act 1925, all their functions were transferred to the County Councils.  But because rural districts are subdivided into the electoral districts we use today, they continue to be used for statistical analysis.

The only sustainable, affordable way of implementing bottom-up local government is to consider a town and its rural hinterland to be intrinsically linked and each to be the responsibility of a Rural District Council.  Each rural district, including its central town, would elect nine representatives to that Council.  Membership would be considered to be a part-time role.  Headquarters of the Rural District Council at the existing Town Council offices would be manned by a single full-time administrative staff member.  Each of the rural districts already has County Council Area Offices, so an engineer from each Area Office could function without additional cost as the Rural District Engineer.  Management would be a shared function with Cork County Council.

Rural District elected members would receive representational payment similar to that currently received by members of a former UDC, i.e. €5,000 p.a.  They would have limited statutory functions, performing primarily representational, rating and social functions, similar to Town Councils.  Unlike Town Councils, they would be statutorily consulted on such issues as planning and housing.  Their annual budget would be limited and similar to that of current UDCs.

Three elected representatives from each Rural District Council would convene at Cork County Council headquarters monthly for a countywide meeting.  This would be the new County Council and the principal opportunity for elected members from each rural district to present the financial arguments for their area to the County Council executive.

Were such an approach to be considered, there would be a suggested 14 Rural District Councils, each with nine elected members in County Cork.  At a practical level, some rural districts would need to be amalgamated such that each Rural District Council would have responsibility for 20,000 – 30,000 people.  But at least the amalgamations would be between towns with established relationships and with sufficient proximity to have relevance to each other.  For example, it would make sense to amalgamate the Fermoy and Mitchelstown rural districts to yield a Rural District Council with responsibility for a total population of almost 32,000.  Both towns are adjacent and work closely together.  Public representation for each citizen would be 1:3,555.  While still greater than the European norm, it is better than the current 1:7,200 and the post-reform proposed representation ratio of 1:7,000.  Crucially, such an approach would bring citizens closer to their elected representatives and would allow real local issues to relay directly to the County Council executive.

No system of local government is without its drawbacks, but if well managed, the interactions between towns and countryside are the basis for a balanced regional development which is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.  And happy rural areas mean happy cities and suburbs.

Update on meeting of Passage West Town Council with Cork County Council Area Engineer

  • Request that the barriers around the Centre Block would be moved in for the Easter weekend. The Area Engineer said that she would speak to the contractors.
  • The slip at Toureen/Patrick Murphy Park is dangerous. The hand rail is corroded. The Town Council will be requested to pay for a new one at a cost of €200. It will be fabricated locally.
  • The picnic tables to be erected in Patrick Murphy Park/Toureen will be:

o Between the seats in Patrick Murphy Park

o Opposite Derek O’Brien’s

o Opposite the Tavern

  • Request that the concrete plinths under the tables would be made flush with the grass, firstly to facilitate wheelchair access and secondly, to facilitate neat grasscutting.
  •  Sods in the old church need to be taken away. The Area Engineer said that she would look after this.
  •  The Festival Committee wants a plaque erected in Fr. O’Flynn Park in time for the festival and is seeking the assistance of the Area Office in this regard. The Area Engineer said the timescale was short but that she would do her best.
  •  The 10k Road Race is next week. The Area Engineer said that the contractors used by the Area Office for grasscutting had started their work in Monkstown today and so the grass should be complete in time for the Road Race.
  • Request that the road sweeper should make a visit to the town in advance of the Road Race. Also that notice should be given of its coming so that footpaths could be swept onto the road for debris to be picked up by the road sweeper. In particular there is much gravel on the road around the area where the Road Race is to finish. Noted that visits from the road sweeper were far more frequent before Christmas 2013. The Area Engineer said that she would try to get the road sweeper.
  •  There is a water hydrant cover missing on Church Hill adjacent to the Eircom building. This is dangerous.
  • Request that the Area Office might place boulders on the edges of the grass at Toureen on a temporary basis to stop cars from using the grass as a parking space.
  • Request that the Area Office might donate some tar to fill potholes in the car park at the GAA Club in advance of the Road Race. If the tar is donated, the Club will look after the filling of the holes.
  • Concerned that the County Council operatives who empty bins, etc. in Passage West will be operating throughout a larger area and without additional staff. Concerned that Passage West might not get the same attention it has been getting to date, particularly with regard to emptying of the Water Tower and emptying of the litter bins. The Area Engineer said that the operatives have been operating that larger area since Christmas. The best service possible will be provided.
  • Observed that litter bins are not always emptied in advance of weekends. This causes great mess in the town and negates the litterpicking work the Tidy Towns does during the week. Request that the Tidy Towns would be given a key for the litterbins such that they are not emptied by Friday, the Tidy Towns would be able to empty them and put the bags in the water tower for subsequent collection by Cork County Council. The Area Engineer agreed that this would likely be possible and that she would look into it.
  • Request that the two litterbins with broken locks would have those locks replaced.
  • Acknowledgement that the Area Office has previously requested that voluntary effort would not be used to clean the LHS of the R610 from Passage West to Rochestown. Request that the Area Office should clear this side of the road of litter. It is intended that the all-community clean-up on 23rd April in advance of the Road Race will look after the cleaning of the footpath on the RHS. The Area Engineer reiterated that cleaning the LHS of the road is a very dangerous job and one which she could not condone the local community doing. She said cleaning of roadsides subject to dumping is a task regularly requested of the Area Office. They know it is necessary but simply do not have the resources. She will ask the operatives to be aware of it and to do the best they can but is not hopeful it can be tackled.
  • Request that the footpath from Pembroke Wood across the R610 to the Rockenham side should be dished. Appreciation of the works done crossing at the bottom of Rockenham, but there are 400-odd houses in Pembroke Wood and dishing should also have been carried out to facilitate those residents. The Area Engineer agreed and said that she would investigate further.
  • Request that the footpath up the Glen in Monkstown should be fixed and widened to facilitate the elderly. The Area Engineer said that she was aware this was necessary and would follow it up.
  • The Tidy Towns has done a survey of signage throughout the town. Request that if they send a list of redundant and damaged signage to the Area Office that these might be removed or addressed as appropriate. The Area Engineer agreed that this would be fine.
  • Request for advice and assistance with regard to rehabilitation works the Tidy Towns hopes to undertake at Steampacket Quay/Penny’s Dock. The anticipated works were costed in accordance with a quote received from a recommended contractor. However the contractor omitted one essential element of the intended job in the quotation and so the project is now undercosted. Despite best efforts, no cheaper quotation can be got and so the Tidy Towns is short of funds. The Area Engineer acknowledged that the project is worthwhile and the Area Office can offer limited assistance with regard to making up the shortfall. The Town Council also offered an increase in its already-promised financial contribution to the project to assist with the shortfall.