The Mayor of Ballyshannon, Fine Gael Cllr John Meehan has said that local authorities in their current guise are unsustainable into the future. But he emphasised that local representation would still have to form a vital cog in any shake-up of local government, in whatever future format it may take. Ballyshannon Town Council, along with neighbours Bundoran, Buncrana and Letterkenny are up for the chop in the run up to the local elections of 2014, although there are some suggestions the council which serves the largest population in the county, Letterkenny, may get a reprieve. Their fates are due to be sealed in a report to be published in June.
Cllr Meehan was speaking in the wake of recent comments made by Environment Minister Phil Hogan and the Irish planning Institute over the weekend, where it was suggested that up to 90% of local authorites could face closure to save on costs and delivery of services.
“The Minister did mention it at the weekend and indeed at our recent Ard Fheis. He informed all councillors there that he has a working group in place, to totally review local government and to provide him with a blue print of how to move this on in the future,” Mayor Meehan said.
As to his own personal opinion, Cllr Meehan added: “Town Councils are not sustainable as they currently are. For example, you have Ballyshannon Town Council and Bundoran Town Council which are about four miles apart, yet you have no other town council until you get to Letterkenny. I think that is not appropriate or not the way to move forward in a modern democracy.
“However, I do believe that there has to be, whatever framework is brought up, more input locally and that the devolution of budgets and powers goes down locally.
“For example, Ballyshannon and Bundoran although they are both town councils, both have diffeerent status. Bundoran has a rateable authority, Ballyshannon hasn’t. Bundoran Town Councillors have the ability to decide where their money is spent within their environs, because they are a rateable authority. The tax that they generate goes directly to them. Bunodran’s budget is in the millions, Ballyshannon’s is about €120,000.
Although he could agree that the current model of representation “was not the way forward” he totally disagreed with the notion that “local representation” would not be required.
Moving power to a centralised Donegal County Council could save millions according to various estimates.
Minister Hogan warned that smaller councils wouild be axed: “What we’ve been doing with Limerick and Tipperary is an example of what we have to do more of in terms of merging smaller authorities with larger authorities,” he said.
“We are going to have less councils and less councillors, and that’s going to be part of the local government package. It will come into effect for the local elections in 2014.”