Local Government and Parliamentary Reform

[Speaking in the Seanad during Second Stage of the Local Government Reform Bill 2013]

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoir agus leis an Seanadóir Bradford for giving me time. I will be very brief. I would like to draw an analogy that I am sure the Minister has heard many times today. It is in the nature of the political climate that exists following the Seanad referendum that people are inclined to draw parallels between this reform initiative and the reform initiative that culminated in the people being asked whether they wanted to abolish the Seanad. In both cases, a genuine problem existed and needed to be addressed. There is clear evidence at national level of real failures in the system of government. These failures cannot always be attributed to the actions of individuals. They are somehow intrinsic to the irrational systems that have arisen in the way we conduct national politics. None of the problems to which I refer, which contributed substantially to the economic decline, would have been addressed by abolishing the Seanad.

I compliment the Minister for grasping the nettle by looking at the structure of local government, which is deeply ingrained in Irish political culture, and acknowledging that there is a need to reform it. While I praise the Minister for doing that, I am afraid I disagree with the actual substance of the way he is going about it for the simple reason that I do not think it addresses the core questions. I do not think these reforms will address the core problems that need to be fixed, such as the democratic deficit within local government. If anything, they will make those problems a little worse. As legislators in these Houses, we deal every day with the way the permanent officials of the Civil Service do their business. They appear to be impervious in the face of the articulation by elected representatives of a democratic wish for change. I believe this problem will recur at local government level, albeit on a bigger scale, as a result of the reforms we are discussing. A real time bomb is ticking away in these reforms, whereby this country’s large, heavily entrenched, self-serving and corporatist bureaucracy will become less sensitive to the wishes of the people who elect the shrinking number of councillors.

One of the critical issues in local government reform, as in health care reform, is the need to connect activity to revenue generation. I am not sure this Bill provides for such a connection. The fundamental problem in our health service is the complete disconnect between how decisions on spending money are made and the ability to raise money to meet the expenditure needs that exist. The manner in which money is given out by fiat in the health service still tends to occur, to a large extent, in the local government sector. That will remain the case after these reforms are enacted. I believe that is a recipe for irresponsible, dysfunctional and inappropriate spending. It leads to the neglect of areas that should benefit from appropriate public services. While I am pleased that someone of the Minister’s seniority has grasped the nettle of local government reform, I am afraid I will not be supporting this Bill. I thank the Minister for his time.

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  1. […] Opinion seems to be equally divided among independent commentators (if there are any such!). Senator John Crown welcomes the intent to restructure local government, but says the Bill does not address the democratic deficit in local government, that it will lead to inappropriate spending, and did not support the Bill in the Seanad. /2013/12/16/local-government-and-parliamentary-reform/ […]



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