Fórsa has said the Citizens Assembly needs to be considered as a forum to develop meaningful local government reform. The proposal was made by Seán Reid, Chair of Fórsa’s Local Government and Local Services division.
Speaking at the union’s local government conference in Kilkenny last week, Seán said that local democratic reform remains one of the long-standing questions of Irish politics.
He told delegates that research commissioned by the union found that only 8% of Irish public spending occurs at local government level, compared to an EU average of over 23%.
“Even then, just three-quarters of the spend is fully under local authority control. We have far fewer local municipalities than similar-sized European countries and our councils have fewer functions,” he said.
Seán added that Ireland’s poor level of investment in local authority services had a negative impact on local jobs, service quality, value-for-money, and environmental protections.
“It also contributes to declining local election voter turnout. With little more than two weeks to go before polling day, this is sobering and dispiriting for those of us who’ve committed our careers to local democracy,” he said.
Seán said successive governments have shunned local democratic reform because too many prospective TDs still favour being seen as the local ‘fixer’ in order to secure re-election to the Dáil.
“This debases our national politics, and reduces every Dáil election campaign slogan to “They fixed the road!”, harking back to a cronyism that was supposed to have been shaken out of Irish politics with the abolition of the dual mandate almost two decades ago.
“In recent years we’ve seen seismic change in this country brought about by constitutional change, following the meticulous work of the Citizens Assembly. In that same vein, we should be ambitious in our aim to reclaim local democracy, and to consider the Citizens Assembly as an appropriate forum to make progress on local democratic reform,” he said.
Seán said people had very real concerns about the decline of rural communities.
“Sometimes they’re talking about post offices, pubs or Garda stations. Many of the changes we hear about are driven by commercial imperatives, but there’s no question that rural communities are changing.
“The population is becoming more urbanised. People are travelling further to work. All the while, local authorities continue to provide the services that respond specifically to the needs of the communities they serve.
Those services have lasting value because they are delivered by people who live and work in the community,” he said.
For more on last week’s conference in Kilkenny, visit https://www.forsa.ie/tag/flglsconf2019/