A child would have drawn better boundaries for the municipal electoral areas in Clare, it has been suggested.
At a meeting of Clare County Council, Councillor Bill Slattery said the West Clare Municipal District, which stretches from Ballyvaughan to Loop Head, is crazy and is actually creating a disconnect between officials in the district.
“If you were to give a crayon to a child he or she would have drawn better boundaries,” he said.
The council is calling on Minister Alan Kelly to review the impact of the new structures put in place last May under the reform of local government programme – Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective Local Government.
West Clare independent councillor Christy Curtin moved the motion and told the adjourned April council meeting that the new organisation structures at the council’s headquarters and municipal district levels in relation to service delivery, customer response, engagement with councillors on policy implementation, cost-savings in overhead expenditure items such as legal and insurance expenses, need to be reviewed.
“The honeymoon is over and it is now time and opportune to have a re-look, and in my opinion and experience of the past 12 months, the format is not conducive to our council,” Councillor Curtin said.
“I think we would have to broaden the agenda, particularly in relation to any programme where the delivery of services is concerned. In my opinion, consultation at this stage and a this level is minimal and that is leading to frustration and in impacting on the good relationship between the elected members and the officials,” he said.
Councillor Curtin added that the municipal district structure could be a force for good but it needs to have a work programme and to be relevant to the agenda in Putting People First.
Seconding the motion, Councillor PJ Kelly, Fianna Fail, said that after 12 months in operation, he is totally disappointed with the way the new structure has worked.
“Our workload has possibly doubled, and we have been left in a most frustrating position,” Councillor Kelly said.
Councillor Richard Nagle, Fianna Fail, said the reforms had seen the West Clare Municipal District occupy 57% of the county land mass.
He said that in 2001 Clare County Council had purchased the present building in Ennistymon and as a result, services had been brought closer to the people.
“That worked extremely well and people were happy with it over the intervening years, but what has happened with the reconfiguration of the municipal districts is that we have ended up with the biggest municipal district; our office in North Clare has been downgraded to a service centre; over half of the staff have been transferred into Ennis; and we have lost our senior executive engineer,” Councillor Nagle said.
Councillor Nagle said he had attended a Local Community Development Committee (LCDC) presentation earlier in the day where he heard that West Clare area is one of the most deprived areas in terms of services, age profile of the population and employment opportunities and said he believes they are seeing a centralisation of structures with a corresponding education of services.
“I think it is an issue that needs to be revisited, as Councillor Curtin said, and it is an issue that’s going to have to be addressed in the lifetime of the council. It’s all right having buzzwords and aims like putting people first, the reality is totally the opposite, Councillor Nagle said.
Mayor of Ennis Municipal District, Councillor Johnny Flynn, Fine Gael, supported the call for a review by the Environment Minister and said the result of the local government reforms left the country “overmanaged at central government and under-resourced at local government levels”.
“There’s an urgent need for this Government to re-look at the inadequate funding and staffing structures that are available to the chief executive here in Clare,” Councillor Flynn said.
Fianna Fail’s Councillor Pat Hayes said, “I don’t know who thought of that great name – Putting People First – because there’s nobody putting anybody first here. People are being put last as far as I can see”.
While Councillor Hayes said he wasn’t criticising the CEO or management , he felt that the new structures which, for example, see the annual roads programme debated in the municipal districts is a policy which is designed to divide and conquer. “We’ve never had a debate here in the chamber this year in terms of the roads programme, for the first time since I became a councillor,” Councillor Hayes said.
Council CEO Tom Coughlan said he understood the concerns of councillors in relation to the structures, and noted that local government reform had created a rationalised structure for towns and county areas with a single countywide administrative and operational structure. “That’s what we have,” Mr Coughlan said.
The council said that all the indications are that the arrangements are working satisfactorily and there has been no adverse customer response since these revised arrangements commenced.
The minister will be requested to review and report on the impact of the new structures at local government level in the context of the Government’s “Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective Local Government, within three months.
Summing up, Councillor Curtin said that neither side can stick their heads in the said and there is frustration on both sides.
“We want a work plan; we want meetings that are responsive and we want outcomes. That’s the message going from the council this evening,” he said.