Will councillors provide the strong leadership needed after Covid-19?

With the council controlled by a pact of Independents and small parties, will individual concerns or the greater good prevail when addressing city's pressing problems?

Cllr Noel Larkin, with his family and supporters following his re-election to Galway City Council last year. He is about to become Mayor of Galway in one of the most challenging periods of the city's history.

Cllr Noel Larkin, with his family and supporters following his re-election to Galway City Council last year. He is about to become Mayor of Galway in one of the most challenging periods of the city's history.

It has been more than 12 months since the local elections and Insider is assessing how the members of the current Galway City Council have performed and how the council has done.

It got off to a rocky start. The two big groupings - Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - have eight members between them and it was automatically presumed these parties, along with two or three more, would form the majority. Surprisingly, this did not come to pass, and all the other members, made up of quite disparate set of individuals, agreed to divvy up the jobs. That’s politics and as a friend of Insider often says, those are the breaks!

The pact saw Independent Galway City Central councillor Mike Cubbard elected as the first Mayor of the new council and Insider understands that Cllr Noel Larkin is to be elected as the next Mayor at the end of the month. It is quite an achievement that he will hold this office for a second time in only his second term.

New faces in the chamber

An interesting development in recent days has seen Imelda Byrne and Niall Murphy who were ‘ordinary’ citizens on Monday morning become Cllr Imelda Byrne and Cllr Niall Murphy on Monday afternoon. The vacancies arose because former councillors Ollie Crowe and Pauline O’Reilly were elected to Seanad Eireann.

'There are 18 members of the Galway City Council. Six are Independents, while Labour and the Soc Dems have one each. In effect that is eight Independents'

Ms Byrne was the only candidate Fianna Fáil ran last year in the city who did not get elected. However she did put in a very credible performance and now has her chance to make a difference for Galway City Central. The fact Ms Byrne is a woman is also welcome in Fianna Fáil circles.

Mr Murphy is somewhat less known and as far as Insider is aware has not run in an election before but again, he has his chance now and the Green Party will hope he settles in well.

The trouble with Independents?

Insider is of the view that, despite all its flaws, the political party is the best vehicle to drive the fairest interests of society. Independents are single entities, and each has their own single agenda. Naturally their concern is immediately to their own small support base. When you have a lot of Independents in control of a body such as a council or in the Dáil, trying to form cohesive solid policy for society becomes difficult.

There are 18 members of the Galway City Council. Of these, six are Independents, while Labour and the Social Democrats have one member each. In effect that is eight Independents. All eight are in the controlling pact along with the two Green Party members. Interestingly this pact has voted together only on occasion in the last year. This does not bode well for the next number of years.

Agreement

It is well known that the experienced members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are reluctant to ‘bail out’ some of the pact members, ie, those who believe that certain actions and policies which need to be implemented cannot be because there is no agreement within the pact.

In the past it would not be unusual for a majority of the 18 members, comprising pact members and those outside it, to join forces to drive certain measures through. From observing matters over the past year, Insider thinks this is unlikely in the current council term. Therefore, it will be at the complete remit of the pact to introduce change.

Dealing with the Covid-19 aftermath

Such a scenario makes many people nervous, particularly business owners and operators. There is a belief within business that post Covid-19 the next 12 months will be brutal. Already in the city several businesses such as Debenhams have closed. Others like Laura Ashley are in the process of closing, and many more are under immediate threat.

Local Government has often been described as weak, but Insider believes it can have very positive effects when minds are concentrated. Past schemes introduced by councillors, such as the marketing fund, sports clubs grants, and rates rebates to mention a few, have all had positive impacts, and more such programs will be needed. These were introduced often against official’s advice by the elected members.

'Key, experienced, members of the Galway City Council - both in the pact and outside it - need to come together in the best interests of the city'

That is the difference between officials and councillors. The former follow the path laid out by the latter. That is where strong leadership by the elected members comes in. It is an absolute requirement in politics that those elected are clear in their vision, and on occasion, that requires a need to be dogmatic because ‘the system’ will do its best to wear down the will for change and new policy.

Can the councillors meet the challenge?

Insider believes there are key, experienced, members of the Galway City Council - both in the pact and outside the pact - that need to come together in the best interests of the city. The remaining four years of this current council will be tough and there will be a need for strong leadership and a coming together of certain elected members who have the ability to bring officials with them.

The current pact will struggle to do that. For the first time ever, in the midst of a real health crisis, and in order to act in the best interest of the people of the city, individual political concerns should be dropped and a coming together of a solid experienced working majority needs to happen.

The general election last February seems like two lifetimes ago with all that has happened since. It was obvious the public of Galway wanted change in the Dáil then. It is not obvious today, but Insider has been around long enough to know that the public of Galway need change in City Hall now. Only time will tell if this happens.

 

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