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Labour Blog

Why we want to restore Town Councils

Posted on March 27, 2019 at 05:36 PM

Brendan Howlin writes below about why the Labour Party wants to restore town councils so that people can have a real democratic say in the future of their local town.

On Thursday 28th March, the Dáil select committee on local government will scrutinise the bill from Brendan Howlin TD that seeks to restore Town Councils.

Towns are at the heart of our community and drive local economies across Ireland. It’s where people meet, do their shopping, go to school, watch a match, and celebrate life’s big moments.

When a local person does something great, or when a big celebrity visits, it’s where we gather to mark those events.

And the local Mayor would be the master of ceremonies. They might not have had a lot of powers, but they were our elected representative, selected by the people of the town, who acted as our contacts to Ireland and the world.

Town councils were abolished by the last government, of which I was a member, and it was a mistake. New models that were brought in then haven’t worked.

While there may have been compelling administrative reasons to consolidate local government at the time, the breaking of that tier of local government focusing on urban centres was a mistake.

For our towns it has meant a loss of status, and a loss of local control. The big decisions are now made elsewhere, and when problems need to be solved they are in a queue with others from across the county.

I have travelled extensively throughout the country and I have seen the compelling arguments for the reintroduction of an urban focus in the traditional towns which had boroughs, like my own in Wexford or those Drogheda, Clonmel and Sligo.

There is a disconnect between the larger areas known as municipal districts, and such towns. In my own area of Wexford, the district makes up a quarter of the county. Citizens in towns no longer have the ready access to the same number of councillors or to what used to be the town hall, and we must restore that. We must bring back civic pride.

Take Ireland’s largest town Drogheda, with a record of local government going back hundreds of years. It has been neglected by the Fine Gael government, and must compete in Louth alongside Dundalk for resources. Both should have their own directly elected town councils for local control and decision making.

Just like Kilkenny, Athy, Ennis, Mullingar, Mallow, Nenagh and dozens of others across Ireland should too.

When we had town councils we knew where to go to get problems solved, from parking spaces, to the upkeep of streets and squares, and upgrades for our parks and cycle paths.

Labour has identified a clear problem, which is that national and regional level public bodies have lost focus on urban development. And whole towns are missing out on opportunities for economic development due to the lack of a local figurehead, such as a mayor and its own home team, to promote the town.

Town-level local government can be more responsive to people's concerns, quicker to react to issues and provides clear accountability in relation to money being invested to address local needs.

That’s why I have proposed new law that would restore Town Councils in areas with a population of at least 5,000 residents, and 1,000 or more dwellings with a clearly defined urban centre.

We want a Local Government Commission to consider and define each qualifying town. Each Council would elect a minimum of 9 town councillors and for towns with a population over 25,000 like Drogheda, 15 Councillors would be elected.

This legislation would reconnect people with the lowest tier of democracy. It would be funded from existing resources.

It could be enacted in time for the next local election as both Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have said they want Town Councils restored. Let’s make it happen.

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