A bigger city council is not a more effective one

Will the 18 city councillors be able to handle the issue of halting sites?

The current 18 members of the Galway City Council. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

The current 18 members of the Galway City Council. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Some years back, when the review of local government was carried out, it resulted in the Galway City Council seeing an increase from 15 to 18 councillors. All three wards in the city would have six representatives each was the conclusion. That is reform for you!

'We move forward' was the view from the local representatives. Nothing to see here. Eighteen months into this current council and it is an appropriate time to take a brief analysis of how the increased council chamber is performing.

While the number three is considered small by most people, when you add it on to an already sizable number, then that can result in a number that is just too big. This is exactly what has happened on the Galway City Council. The increase has made the workings of the council chamber so much harder. The mayor of the day needs a large whip - not just an egg timer - to keep order. As usual, most councillor need their own say on every item. This, added to the fact there are seven rookies, has led to unnecessarily long meetings over the first quarter of the lifetime of this council. That’s democracy.

What is also noticeable is that the current executive has outmanoeuvred the elected members on several occasions. For example, the councillors who sit on the Leisureland Board boxed themselves in on a couple of issues and ended up resigning en masse. They simply had not the foresight to see where the road was leading. This left the facility totally in the hands of management. Time passed, and the primary issue most of the board resigned over remained, and was not going to change. Some of the board returned. More astute, experienced, members would never have fallen into that trap. It has never happened before and is unlikely to happen again. One nil to the management.

The Christmas Market is also gone from of the decision making of the councillors. Sure, it will be on the council agenda and the operators will have to give a report to the Council Chamber, but the system has changed so that the operators apply for a licence, and not temporary planning permission as before. Therefore the decision is made by management and not by councillors. This was a move that was done quietly in the background and councillors seemed to just accept it. It does make Insider wonder.

Where should halting sites be located?

One of the thorny issues that comes before council is the debates, discussion, and decision about where halting sites should be located. All councillors are aware that this issue will come before this council over the next three years. The recent tragedy in Carrickmines will probably speed up this process.

Rightly or wrongly, there are few issues which can divide people and divide communities such as this. The reality is, heretofore settled people do not want a halting site nearby. Five miles away is near enough. Funnily enough, the settled community living five miles away believe it would be better off another five or six miles away. And on it goes. However here is the thing, this issue is coming before councillors in the near future and it is going to be probably the most divisive issue facing the current council.

While probably saying one thing in public, privately most, if not all, will be wearing “NIMBY” T-shirts, but what some councillors do not realise is that, like the aforementioned issues, if they cannot decide by majority, or otherwise, on the location of these new halting sites, then under recent powers given to him, the chief executive Brendan McGrath can. Now this would be a first. However this management has been making a habit of 'firsts'. So it should not be a shock. Councillors need to be careful or the score line for management against the elected members will end up beyond embarrassing.

It is important to say that Insider believes the current management team have respect for the institution that is the chamber of elected members. They do not necessarily like or indeed respect every single one individually but that is not relevant. What they see, is that these 18 are the people's voice around the table, and that carries significant weight. It is often the weight that tips the balance in favour of the council members.

The need to box clever

Despite the criticisms expressed above, Insider still feels that, if this council has proved anything, it is that, despite everything, it has been able, for the most part, to have the foresight to work out what is really important, and establishing a methodology to be involved in decision making is worth so much more than the public protestations of one's thoughts on social media. Insider would rather be working on influencing the outcome than talking about it afterwards.

Insider is of the view that if councillors want to ensure they play a key role in the decisions, where they have no legal entitlement to decide on an issue, they need to box clever. Fifteen months' training should be loads for anyone. A large part of politics is about beingable to work with people to give yourself the best chance of the outcome you seek - and more importantly - the outcome the electorate that a councillor represents seeks. Knowing which battles to fight hard for is priceless. Look at the current councillors - some councillors are in the news constantly ranting on about this week’s news du jour, others far less often. Give some thought to who are the most effective.

For many years now, Insider has observed how the more astute councillors end up ensuring that the outcome of decisions that are very important to them tend to go their way; have been able to realise which ones are key. This is not understood by a lot of the current crop but it will be, possibly when it is too late for those individuals, and more importantly, the neighbourhoods they represent. Time will tell.

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