Galway TDs condemn “stealth” move to merge councils

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Galway’s TDs were strongly critical this week of a piece of legislation that’s been described as a “stealth” move to merge Galway City and County councils.

The Dáil was debating the Local Government Bill 2018, which is primarily concerned with Cork.

But the bill contains a single section referencing Galway which provides for the appointment of a single Chief Executive with responsibility for both authorities.

Galway West TD Eamon Ó Cuív slammed this “devious” process of “amalgamation by stealth” in Galway.

According to Deputy Ó Cuív, Fianna Fáil agreed to support the bill because they are in favour of expanding Cork. But they, and the majority of Galway representatives, are opposed to language about Galway in the bill.

The Deputy dismissed claims by the Expert Advisory Group which said that an amalgamated authority would create a stronger economic base for Galway.

Rather, he said, rural areas would become further deprived as the city is prioritised for funding.

The government set up an expert advisory group in 2015 to examine the costs and benefits of merging Galway city and county councils.

Since then it has produced two interim reports both recommending the merger of the councils.

Deputy Catherine Connolly questioned the judgement of the expert advisory group, “all of whom have no experience at council level” in recommending the councils be merged.

Rather than following this path, she said, the government should focus its efforts on addressing chronic underfunding of Galway city and county.

Galway/Roscommon TD Eugene Murphy said that centralising power was the wrong move to make in a small country like Ireland, citing the abolition of town councils as a poor precedent.

“The demise of the town council in Ballinasloe, which has a population of more than 7,000, was a bad decision,” Deputy Murphy said.

“When one talks to the people in Ballinasloe, from every part of the town, they say that they feel part of their voice has gone and that the local authority is not able to look after everything.”

Sean Kyne, representative of Galway West and Fine Gael TD said that an amalgamated authority would have a stronger rate paying base to fund rural areas.

However he did acknowledge that there are concerns about whether those same areas would have less representation under a single authority.

Galway East TD and Minister for the Diaspora and International Development Ciaran Cannon was one of the only Galway representatives not to have his say in the Dáil for this debate.

Deputy Cannon is in Thailand this week to open the Fexco Asian Gaelic Games.

Independent TD for Galway West Noel Grealish expressed his concerns over the future of the position of Mayor of Galway if the authorities are combined.

He said that its a point of pride that distinguished visitors to Galway city are met by the city Mayor, and that the role would not be the same if it applied to both city and county.

While Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice said that deficiencies in the services provided by Galway’s councils are due to the fact that staff levels have been “decimated” over many years.

It’s understood that Fianna Fáil will be putting forward and amendment to the bill to remove language referencing Galway from it.