Why Galway's city and county councils should not be amalgamated

'Amalgamation may save a few euro in wage slips, but other kinds of costs will be incurred...'

Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

The economic downturn had a severe effect on the lives of many people in the State. Many companies and individuals were hit hard. There was a view in some quarters that the growth during the Celtic Tiger years was just going to continue, and at worst, would simply level off.

In June 2008, the late Brian Lenihan announced in a speech that the building boom had "come to a shuddering end". A month before the Galway Races, the country’s biggest racing festival, nobody wanted to hear this. Regardless, the downturn was well under way. The ‘experts’ then moved on to inform us that we could expect a ‘soft landing’.

It was only two years previously, at the height of economic growth the then taoiseach Bertie Ahern had said "the boom is getting boomier". In late 2008, early 2009, that seemed like talk of a different planet. Ten years on and despite the current economic growth, many people are still battling away trying to recover from that time. Some have. Some will. Some will not. The ‘experts’ have a lot to answer for.

It is easy to think of that massive downturn solely on the basis of present and recent past financial terms. Simply put, whether you are an individual or a country, it is very difficult to go from a situation where you have plenty of money today to having none tomorrow. Changes have to be made - difficult changes - and adjustments have to be introduced.

'Amalgamation sees many areas run the risk of being forgotten. They will have no local councillor, and officials will spend most of the time concentrating on the city and bigger towns'

When you hear politicians talking about 'adjustments', that is a euphemism for cutbacks in projects or cuts in wages. From 2009 on, both were done. When you tell people there is not enough money to build the planned new sports hall, that is one thing. When you tell people there is not enough money to pay all of your wages, that is a whole other ball game. As many read this, a little tingle will go down their spine.

A cost saving exercise?

Part of the fall-out from that time has been the merging and proposed merging of local authorities across the State. Amalgamation has been the buzz word for some time. Amalgamation of public bodies and state organisations is popular with the public because it is presented as a great money saver. Insider always thought that unusual. Amalgamation will not cost as much to do the same thing, apparently.

Currently the Government wants to amalgamate the Galway city and county councils, resulting in one chief executive, one management team, and one set of councillors, where at present, we have two sets each. The thinking goes that cut the current numbers in half, and you will halve the current costs. Money saved. Sure, isn’t that what we want? That money can now go towards that new sports hall we had to put off a few years back. And it goes down well with the public and the Government gets kudos. Everyone is happy. What could go wrong? Where did we hear that before?

County Buildings

As referred to above, the significant negative financial impact from the economic downturn left many individuals mentally wounded and worse. At the time many groups of people were also impacted. Property developers, bankers, unions, politicians, and many more. Most if not all of these groups have since moved on and are back acting in the best interests of the company or organisation they work for.

'Insider believes the financial savings will amount to no more than fewer senior staff and fewer councillors. Hardly earth shattering'

The one group who have not yet got up off the floor are the politicians, particularly politicians in Dail Éireann. They continue to pander to the public, unwilling to do what might be right, afraid of the latest social media campaign. Amalgamation of the two local authorities is a case in point. It is easy to present it as a cost saving exercise and to the benefit of all, and that will probably happen in the short term, but as we have learned, there is more to life than the short term.

Few benefits will flow from amalgamation

Galway city and county councils have, for many years, shared services in several areas. Two to note are the fire services and library services. There are no further savings to be made here. Payroll is now run by Laois County Council for all local authorities in the country. No saving here. Other services are shared and worked on where possible. That will continue.

Insider believes the financial savings will amount to no more than fewer senior staff and fewer councillors. Hardly earth shattering, but here is the rub - while amalgamation of the Galway councils may save a few euro in wage slips, there will be other kinds of costs that will be incurred in both the city and county.

Amalgamation sees many areas run the risk of being forgotten. They will have no local councillor, and officials will spend most of the time concentrating on the city and bigger towns. God help you, if you live in Furbo, Gort, Clifden, Portumna, or any other rural area. The reality is that these areas and indeed more rural isolated areas will suffer the most. Furthermore the city might not continue to thrive as obviously there will also be less concentration on it, and its needs.

So, for the sake of a few euro on salaries and short term popular political decisions, the Government proposal to amalgamate both local authorities is proceeding. It is a time to remember that old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for.' If you do not, then remember the short term decisions that got us into the economic mess in the first place. That was not that long ago. Restrict the amalgamation and the very obvious long term risks.

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