Is it time to rethink the issue of rates?

When the Volvo Ocean Race departs Boston next week the countdown to the Galway stopover begins in earnest.

It is incredible to think that what started as a flight of fancy by a small group of passionate Galway sailors and business people is set to become a multi-million euro reality in a couple of weeks. Yes, there has been an element of government funding through Failte Ireland, without which the event could not have taken place, but it is the people of Galway who can be justifiably proud of their ability to stage a world-class event in the the west of Ireland.

Another sporting body has not been so lucky. Galwegians FC was set to give the local economy another boost with the €15m development that included new pitches and a club house at Brownville. The club is only one of three senior rugby clubs in the county, and regarded as the most successful, providing hundreds of youngsters with the opportunity to play sport . It was all looking good for the club – after 15 years of debate, searches, and some bureaucratic nightmares, Galwegians looked set to finally have found a new home worthy of its division one status. The local county council agreed. Yet amazingly it is a national body that is currently preventing this development. Understandably the club and its supporters are angry and frustrated. Club chairman Macdara Hosty makes a valid point when he says that at a time when the Taoiseach is telling us all to pull together for the sake of our economic future, one of his own agencies is stopping a development that would provide a much needed boost.

A few miles down the road the Western Fisheries Board opened its new offices at Salmon Weir, and a host of politicians were present for its official opening. Yet it comes at a time when the Government has decided that the Western Fisheries can no longer make its own decisions. The Western and North West regional boards are set to be merged and rationalised, with a new national inland fisheries to take charge. Essentially an office in Swords in Dublin will decide what happens on our precious Corrib.

Perhaps the Government has missed the point of decentralisation. It is not about locating Dublin workers in the sticks and letting head office make decisions, but letting the regions have a greater sense of autonomy to make decisions which best fit their own needs.

Perhaps it is time to bring back domestic rates too. For starters local councillors are considerably more accountable and visible to the person on Shop Street. They cannot hide behind the Leinster House walls or the tinted glass of their chauffeur driven Mercs.

Ireland was long upheld as an example of a economy that got it right in the past 15 years, yet in New Zealand a country with a similar size population, it is something of a revelation to see the services available in small towns. In a country town of some 15,000 people that serves an agricultural hinterland, services include an 18-hole golf course, squash courts, bowling club tennis courts, and a host of public parks that are used for rugby, cricket and other sporting activities. Perhaps the most impressive is its swimming pool complex which includes, outdoors, a heated 50m, dive, and learner pools, and an indoor heated 25m and learner pools. Then there’s the Manfeild Park which comprises 80 hectares of parkland including a motor racing circuit, multi-purpose stadium, grandstands overlooking vast grassed areas, hireable corporate facilities, and commercial kitchens. Need we go on? There are at least four children’s play parks - something considered a necessity in the smallest of communities - yet here, even in Oughterard lobbyists have spent years searching for a suitable site.

Prior to 1977, all property owners in Ireland had to pay rates - based on the rateable valuation of the property - to the local authority. Perhaps it is time to rethink that issue.

Linley MacKenzie

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