7 Decemver 2023
By Tom Collins
Being a Cllr is a part time job, historically many Cllrs were self-employed or had an understanding employer who would let them attend meetings during work hors – but society has changed with greater expectations, and social media demands
Independent Senators have emphasised problems that will lead to many Councillors choosing not to run in the next local election, including issues related to women’s safety, local justice and lack of influence over planning.
The problems were raised yesterday in a Seanad motion tabled by members of the Seanad Independent Group including, Senators Victor Boyhan, Gerard Craughwell and Sharon Keogan. Minister of State Kieran O’Donnell was in the Chamber to respond.
The initiative by Seanad Independent Group members deals with a number of issues related to Councillors’ safety and the centralised approach to planning, many of which were discussed at the Seanad Public Consultation Committee by elected local representatives from Donegal, Sligo, Galway, Mayo, Westmeath and Longford.
It’s also being introduced after it was revealed that Ireland has a very weak system of local government in comparison to other European countries. According to a recent draft report the Council by of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE); Ireland’s system of local government is too limited and centralised.
Senator Sharon Keogan started the debate saying, “The Association of Irish Local Government (AILG) has raised that the Planning and Development Bill 2023 proposes that the duration of a Development Plan will be extended to TEN years from the existing six. Such a long duration will open up a democratic deficit whereby all of the elected members of the Planning Authority may not be able to make an input to the spatial planning of their locality”.
“What is the explanation for this Minister? Why does the government want so badly to hamstring their County Councillors? It seems like it is government policy to steadily suck the power up through the ranks and consolidate it at the very top, in Cabinet, at the expense of all other elected reps.”
Senator Craughwell seconded the motion saying, “It is outrageous that we would consider removing local representatives from their roles on Joint Policing Committees.”
Speaking directly to the Minister of State during the debate, Senator Craughwell said, “You’ll recall that in Limerick, we had some pretty tough people in town, and Limerick has turned out to be a fantastic place since. And in fact, it should be a model for cities and towns in how you can tackle crime, but it was because of local authorities supported by members of this house.”
He also talked about issues relating to the safety of women councillors saying, “They have to fight hard to get security for their homes…Politics in general is woman unfriendly, Helen McEntee had the courage to stand up and take maternity leave and fair play to her. She’s the first woman the country to do it. But we need to have a system where women councillors can watch from home and vote from home…That’s what giving them power would be about.”
Senator Boyhan concluded the debate from the Seanad Independent Group by saying, “Councillors should be supported with independent legal advice, independent planning advice and independent financial advice which will assist them in exercising their functions.” He went on to say that being a Councillor is a full-time job with part-time pay and that is not acceptable.
Senator Boyhan also drew attention to the fact that many Councillors are considering exiting Local Government in June 2024.
During the debate it was highlighted that only 13 out of 60 Senators contributed to the debate on Local Government.