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Local government needs to be reformed before the Local Elections of 2009

category mayo | politics / elections | opinion/analysis author Monday August 21, 2006 15:23author by Cllr Keith Martin - Westport Town Council Report this post to the editors

Councils in danger of becoming irrelevant in 21st Century

We need to dump the officials and bring councillors into power in local government

It is imperative that Local Government in Ireland is reformed immediately. Our current system is so beset by bureaucracy, officialdom, government interference and lack of democracy that is in grave danger of becoming irrelevant in the 21st century.

Currently our local government system is overridden by powerful career bureaucrats with little day to day imput from elected representatives. While councillors are supposed to set policy for the council the list of powers at the disposal of councillors makes up about a page of paper. The powers of officials are detailed under the Local Government Acts as all other powers not listed for councillors. This is an outrageous situation.

In no democratic system in the world would such powers be handed over to unelected and unaccountable officials. Local government employees are not responsible to councillors or open to censure by councillors. Instead they answer to the County Manager who answers to the Minister for Local Government.

Better Local Government, the last reform programme of the local government system, was a farce which removed even more powers from councillors under the guise of improving democracy. Instead of Directly Elected Mayors and empowered councillors we were saddled with SPC talking shops and even more levels of bureaucracy.

In this dynamic new world economy we need strong local government to act in our best interests, we need a strong voice to make ourselves heard in Dublin and Strasbourg and strong local leadership to fight for our needs at local, national and even international level.

Related Link: http://www.votekeithmartin.com
author by Cllr Keith Martin - Westport Town Councilpublication date Mon Aug 21, 2006 15:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Time to get rid of the commissars
If Dublin needs a Directly Elected Mayor why doesn't Westport?
It is just as important for a town like Westport, Co. Mayo (pop. 5,000) to have a directly elected mayor as it is for Dublin City Council (pop 500,000).

There are great differences in population size and budget but their respective responsibilities are identical. Each are responsible for provision or housing, planning, clean water, sewerage, roads, street lighting, recreational facilities amenities and other social and economic programs.

Why then should only lager cities like Dublin, Limerick and Cork have directly elected mayors? If the purpose of directly elected mayors is to ensure local democracy is strengthened why only strengthen it in the cities? Are the town and county councils of the country unworthy or such reform?

Local government in Ireland is becoming irrelevant as a democratic institution. The power of councillors is weakened with every new law or regulation which impacts on councils. Powers are now routinely signed over to officials and not councillors.

This makes for poor local democracy and poor government. It also increases voter apathy as there choices become irrelevant in the face of “executive” decision making.

All decisions that affect a town or a city should be made by the democratically elected head of the council. It is irrelevant whether it is a large city or a small town, the people have a right to democracy in their local government.

It is time to get rid of the “commissars” of the Irish Local Government system and to replace them with directly elected mayors. Local Government must be “of the people, for the people, by the people”.

Related Link: http://www.votekeithmartin.com
author by Seán Ryanpublication date Wed Aug 23, 2006 03:26author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have a firm belief, that a person with lots of questions is more valuable to society, than a person with lots of answers.

You reckon that you should have a directly elected Mayor.
That's just dinky Keith, especially since you say that democracy is strengthened by doing so. You name Cork, Limerick and Dublin, to give an example of democracy in action, via elected Mayors. I wonder could you name a single instance, where an elected Mayor has actually re-inforced democracy.

Let's get more specific. Your Labour brother in arms, Dermot Lacey, is the former 'Lord' Mayor of Dublin. He's only a lowly councillor like yourself now. You might have heard about the poster ban in Dublin. Being politically astute like you are, you'll realise that this is both unconstitutional, and is in violation of European Human Rights Law. Now Keith. The last 'Lord' Mayor of Dublin totally ignored a resolution to lift this illegal ban, until she was forced to table it. Hardly democratic is it? Anyway, your pal, Dermot Lacey, who is a fan of Indymedia like yourself, constantly promotes the idea that he supports the freedom of expression and association, and that he'd like to see this ban lifted (even though the Council have already voted to lift it). My point is Keith, that you are promoting the fallacy that electing a Mayor, would improve democracy. However the very same type of pen pushers you bemoan, have ignored Dublin City Council and the 'Lord' Mayor, and the poster ban is still in full effect. I think you might, or rather that you should agree that free speech, is a fundamental right, and that to interfere with it at this level is a treasonous act. But having a directly elected Mayor, hasn't made a blind bit of difference. And poor old Dermot, is resigned to pushing a pen himself, and says he is powerless to do anything else.
Tis even a waste of time, democratically electing councillors, if you ask me.

I think someone needs to go at your ideas with some red ink.

As for having directly elected Mayors in Limerick and Cork. Don't get me started.

Tis one thing to say that having directly elected Mayors, strengthens democracy. Tis quite another thing to tell how this is so, or to provide example.

But Keith, despite everything, I think you are on the right track. Focus on the professional pen pushers. Make them accountable. Then we might glimpse a democracy.

author by W. Finnerty.publication date Wed Aug 23, 2006 08:40author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Article 28A.1 of Bunreacht na hEireann (The Basic Law of Ireland) reads as follows:

"The State recognises the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of local communities, in exercising and performing at local level powers and functions conferred by law and in promoting by its initiatives the interests of such communities."

What are the "powers and functions" - referred to in the above statement - which are "conferred by law" ?

Are they formally listed anywhere I wonder?

The full text of the Republic of Ireland's written Constitution can be found via the following link:

Related Link: http://www.europeancourtofhumanrightswilliamfinnerty.com/
author by Cllr Keith Martinpublication date Wed Aug 23, 2006 13:29author address author phone Report this post to the editors

In my opinion it is time for us to have directly elected Mayors with real power not just ceremonial duties and photo opportunities. A directly elected Mayor should set out the objectives of the council for their term and make the executive decisions on the day to day, running of the council thus replacing the Town/Borough/City/County Manager system with a more democratic and accountable one. This would leave these managers to get on with carrying out the decisions of the Mayor and the councillors.

There are a great many advantages to having a directly elected Mayor with real powers.
Such Mayors would
provide a very visible leadership for the community in that almost everyone will know who the Mayor is
make it easy to see where power and responsibility lie in the council
make those making decisions accountable to the people through the ballot box
provide Westport with powerful leadership with a 5 year plan for their term of office
give Westport a strong voice with which to address issues like the N5 with regional and national government
It would allow talented individuals from different walks of life and without any political affiliation to bring their skills to the benefit of the community

There would be no danger of the Mayor having too much power as he would have to seek approval for policies and actions from the whole council to be effective. They would require the councillors to approve budgets, zonings and the same functions of the council as at present.

There is a perception out there that only large cities like New York or London can benefit from having a powerful directly elected Mayor but surely towns like Westport are every bit as entitled to democratic local government. Directly elected Mayors are not about taking power away from councillors they are about putting the power back in the hands of the people, about giving the town leadership and making local government relevant and democratic in the 21st century.

author by municipal & rural sniggeringpublication date Wed Aug 23, 2006 23:43author address author phone Report this post to the editors

You were elected to the council you sit on as an independent candidate facing opposition from all the main parties. Those who voted for you did not do so for other parties such as Labour. But now you sit with Labour having been accepted by them as a member.
If you were and are so in favour of direct election of mayors, why didn't you trust your electorate to confirm your decision to ignore the original mandate you received?

author by Cllr Keith Martinpublication date Thu Aug 24, 2006 02:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I was directly elected. In 2009 the electorate will have a chance to confirm or reject me. That is completely democratic.

In future please post under your real name as it is very easy to make comments hiding behind pretend name. I will not reply in future to posters using an alias.

All the Best!

author by mairepublication date Sat Nov 04, 2006 11:02author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Controversial rezonings in Cork are directly linked to the unelected office of County Manager reserving to himself the function and duty of determining major applications. What is the role now of elected County Councillors? This applies to all parts of the country.

author by Cllr Keith Martinpublication date Mon Nov 13, 2006 16:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Councillors can zone land but have no say in individual planning applications.

So if you want to zone land for supermarkets they can do that.

if you want a hand getting permission to build your home they can't help you.

Most systems have a combination of councillors and officals who judge applications. In Ireland the officials have the say.

author by Kevin Bloodpublication date Tue Nov 14, 2006 16:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

As we all know we in Europe have developed the idea of democracy from the ancient Greeks. To be more specific our idea of democracy comes from fifth century Athens. When I say that we have developed our idea of democracy I mean just that. Athens demcocracy is often labelled as the first radical democracy to be documented. Democracy means rule by the 'demos', meaning rule by the people. However, we should note that in Athens radical democracy the franchise was not extended to everyone. Slaves, women, and metics (foreign businessmen and artisans) had no say in the political buisness of the polis (city). So the people who made the rules were citizen males of a certain age. So you can see what I mean when I say we developed our idea of demcoracy from this stage. So how did Athenian democracy earn the title 'radical'. Previously Athens had known only tyranny and oligarchy, rule by one and rule by a powerful few. Athenian democracy meant that all those with the right to vote could have their say on any issue brought before the assembly of the people. They could also bring any issue that they felt to be of importance before the same body. So anything that happened within the city was essentially every voters concern, and , anyone could be held accountable for their actions and decisions. All officials concerned with the handling of public funds had to produce full and transparent details for the inspection of those with the franchise. Each Attic 'deme' (borrough) had its say in the running of the city state as a whole.
So, in terms of the debate contained on this page, while we have expanded the idea of democracy one way, we have greatly narrowed it in another. We could ask ourselves if we in fact live under oligarchy? Perhaps it is time for a change.

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