On August 1 1485, Pyerse Lynch was elected the first mayor of Galway city and his election allowed for the foundation of the Galway Corporation, now the Galway City Council.
For more than 520 years, the city has had its own local Government with the exception of the mid-19th to early 20th century after it was abolished by the Regulation of Municipal Corporations in Ireland Act of 1840. Now the city council is facing abolition again, this time from the dreaded An Bord Snip Nua.
The An Bord Snip Nua report, released last week, contains a series of harsh and drastic measures to save €5 billion to combat the effects of the economic downturn. Among those measures is a proposal to abolish the Galway City Council by merging it with the Galway County Council into one new local authority to cover the running and administration of the entire county.
In a statement on the issue, City Hall said: “In relation to the An Bord Snip recommendations, we do not yet know which will be implemented. Therefore it would be too early to make further comment at this stage other than there would be a whole range of issues to be worked out should this be one of the recommendations to be implemented.”
The recommendation in the report is only a proposal and may never come to pass, but the fact that it has been put into the public as a suggestion for the Government to follow has worried many councillors, who have given it a firm thumbs down.
Many coucnillors say it would be impractical and illogical to try to run a county as large and as populous as Galway, with one of the largest cities in the State, a Gaeltacht, and a significant farming sector, with just one local government body.
“It’s a complete attack on local democracy,” The Mayor of Galway councillor Declan McDonnell told the Galway Advertiser. “It may seem beautiful on paper but in reality it doesn’t have any logic. Galway is the second largest county in Ireland. How can you expect someone from Clifden to have to deal with something in the city and then deal with something in Ballinasloe? The size of the county warrants two local authorities.”
Fine Gael Cllr Pádraig Conneely felt the proposal had more to do with cost cutting at any price, rather than an examination of whether the proposal itself is a good one.
“The Galway City Council has an identity of its own for hundreds of years. There is no way we could work this. What has Bohermore got in common with Inis Bofin?” he said. “This report was written by Colm McCarthy, sitting in a comfortable seat in a plush office in Dublin removed from reality. Let him spend a week with me and see what work councillors do. I’m sure he was highly paid for this report. What did it cost to produce it? We have not been told that.”
Both men feel that greater co-operation between the local authorities on various issues would be welcome and a way to eradicate administrative and financial waste, rather than abolishing one local authority.
“The city and county council work well together in certain services,” says Mayor McDonnell. “The city perhaps should be expanded to take in more areas as people living in the hinterland use the city more than the county. There may be other issues like the fire service and the library service - located in the city but run by the county council - which could be handed over to the city.”
Cllr Conneely said: “I don’t have any problem with staff on either council sharing work, such as in engineering, planning, and consultation, but merging the county with the city, you’d lose control and end up running around like a headless chicken from one end of Galway to another trying to get things done.
However Cllr Conneely believes the proposed merger has less to do with economics and more to do with the Government’s desire to take further powers away from local Government.
“This isn’t economic, it’s administrative,” he said. “The Government have taken away an awful lot of power from the councils and now they want to centralise the system by having only one local authority to deal with instead of two. That way they have even more control of local government.”