There were differing opinions in the Mayo County Council chamber this week on the proposed changes to local government in Ireland that were announced by the Government in October.
A number of councillors who are members of both town councils and Mayo County Council, spoke out against the abolishment of the town councils, while other members welcomed the news.
Cllr Margaret Adams told the meeting Westport had made huge strides in areas such as the Tidy Towns because of the work of the town council. She also wanted to know whether Westport would get a grant that would be similar to the town council’s own expenditure to make sure that services and improvements would continue, because she feared that the town would stagnate and not progress.
Cllr Gerry Ginty said that if the Government was serious about saving money members could start by looking at their own salaries, and expenses to councillors and officials. He said: “If we want local democracy, we have to keep it at the local level, but unfortunately the public won’t give a damn.”
Cllr Richard Finn said he supported the Government’s decision and told the meeting: “We’ve all heard how great Westport is and what a nice place it is. We’ve all thought that ourselves. But we also think that where we’re from and our small towns are very nice too. We represent these small towns and they are on their knees, because they are not getting the support from Mayo County Council and central Government. Are we are supposed to uphold a system where the bigger the town you are the more you’re going to get? Well I believe that if we’re worth our own salt, we’ll get a better shake of the cake in Mayo than we do now.”
Cllr Finn continued: “I also have no problem with the reduction in the number of councillors. I’ve no fear of being defeated if it happens, it has happened before. Don’t worry, there’s life outside of Mayo County Council.”
Cllr Gerry Murray said: “I agree with Cllr Finn that small towns have lost out a lot. You only have to look at small towns in my area, like Charlestown, Kiltimagh and Swinford and compare them to the three town council towns to see it.”
Fine Gael councillor Seamus Weir told the meeting: “I find it interesting the side coming from the town council side. I compliment Cllr Finn for speaking his mind, even with people in my own party getting up and saying different [both Cllr Eugene McCormack and Cllr Peter Flynn spoke about how it would be a disappointment to lose the town councils]. But we need reform and even if I’m to go as a councillor so be it, there’s life after the council.”
Cllr Frank Durcan supported the idea, saying: “It’s ridiculous that there are 66 elected paid officials in Mayo.” He said he supported the idea of reform, but was against the removal of the section 140 powers where councillors could vote to overturn the decision of the manager.
Cllr Michael McNamara said: “I’ve no issues with reform of local government as a rural councillor. The main concern that I would have would be the number of representatives in large counties like Mayo and the areas they have to cover.”