Dan Boyle: Keeping Better Council


Dan Boyle

This week Cork City Council moved into the twenty first century with our first ever live streamed council business meeting. It was an interesting experience, not without some gremlins, but still an useful exercise in public access.

Previous meetings had been time restricted, because of COVID, leading to a forty eight page agenda. Five hours later we had more than tested the patience of anyone who had chosen to link in.

For those who came on to identify elements of Ballymagash in the deliberations of the Council, there were some items that could be portrayed in that way.

The longest debate of the night was on whether statues of War of Independence figures – Collins, MacSwiney and MacCurtain – should be erected on Patrick Street. I found the amount of time discussing this to be frustrating, as I suspect did many of those watching.

Despite that some that useful thoughts came from the discussion. The role of statues as tools of commemoration was rightly questioned. More seriously, arguing for further acknowledgement of male heroes, from a period in history that has yet to reflect at all the role of women, was more marked.

Earlier in the meeting we had approved planning for three infill housing projects. These had all involved a period of public consultation. As these applications often are, they were not without controversy. The consultations, with each of these projects, brought about considerable changes. The public interaction of these consultations was the catalyst for those changes.

Some objections would have remained. They probably never could be met. It is to the credit of local area councillors that they rose above continuing objections to make their decision solely based on housing need.

In my local electoral area another planning decision was in facilitating a pedestrian/cyclist access to an amenity park, where such access has been severely restricted.

On the surface this might not seem the most important issue. When our political debates are more influenced by what happens at a national level, we often forget that it is the small physical changes that can matter more to people.

Local government can be mundane. It’s activities can often invite justifiable derision. Without it, however, many everyday essential public services would become harder to provide.

Our political system is evolving. It is tentatively moving towards better public access and engagement. We need to be going further and faster in making these changes. The further we go in making these changes the better we can make our systems of government.

The speed of these changes will depend on how soon we are willing to put those elements of administrative culture, which have prevented change in the past, aside.

Administrative change in Ireland is still overly influenced by a philosophy of being risk adverse. An overriding attachment to secrecy still remains. A greater need level of trust, especially of the general public, needs to be created. A willingness to try and sometimes and fail has to become accepted.

Over my thirty years in public life I have seen some changes, but they have been far too few. I’m encouraged that there is now a greater capacity for change that is coming as much from council officials as it is from elected councillors.

Most of the work will remain mundane, necessary, occasionally worthy. But we can do it better and we should want to.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator and serves as a Green Party councillor on Cork City Council. His column appears here every Thursday. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle


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7 thoughts on “Dan Boyle: Keeping Better Council

  1. Toby

    This country is far too centralised IMHO. Devolving power, real power, to the regions is the only way we can escape the stifling, statist version of Ireland that Dublin promotes. As the capital was never really part of the country historically (much more British than Irish), it simply does not have the empathy or the understanding it requires to leads a nation. Instead it clumsily looks east to its true masters for approval, and treats everything else as a mild distraction.

    1. ReproBertie

      “As the capital was never really part of the country historically.”

      What an incredibly stupid comment. Brush the chip off your shoulder mate. Dublin was here long before the Normans came calling and the centuries under British rule are part of the country’s history, like it or not.

  2. daveo

    is there a corkbroadsheet.ie or the Cork (Irish) Examiner website that Dan could be posting to. i enjoy his articles, but he regularly goes on about Cork.

  3. theo kretschmar schuldorff

    Dan, what are your thoughts on a re-introduction of Local Authority-administered Rates, so that municipalities might fund & follow their own respective paths?
    Apologies if you’ve penned an item on this which I may have missed.

  4. v AKA Frilly Keane

    48 pages agenda Dan?

    Please tell me that was all the attachments / supporting documents providing info and backup to the items listed on the Agenda

    all of which should be read in advance
    and Motions well prepared by those speaking to them etc

    with regard to the spoofing and timewasting rigmarole
    to fluttering around in and out of Standing Orders etc
    That happens in most organisations where the composition is actually elected
    (and not hand picked by Government Leaders, Ministers or big ticket Chairs in plcs)

    The worst case I have every witnessed of empty grandstanding and timewasting was in the chamber of Cork City Council alright
    I say empty btw, as the then Councillor after tying the place up for nearly an hour with crap
    Decided to abstain

    Thankfully – for all of ye there I suppose
    that PbP Cllr didn’t get returned in 2018

    Incidentially, I think there needs to be more power locally and more support, both funding and with respect for their decisions to be supported and not over ruled further up Nationally
    with that level of signifance into the running of the local services etc,
    You just might get better Candidates putting themselves forward

    Since that is also one of Eamonn Ryan’s Ministries
    Now is yer chance to walk yere talk Dan

    1. Dan Boyle

      The back up materials were separate to the agenda. Most of the materials are online these days. It would be great if Eamon Ryan had responsibility for local government. It’s in Dara O’Brien’s department. Cork City Council never had a PBP councillor but we do have a Solidarity councillor, as well as the only elected Workers Party councillor in the country.

      1. V aka Frilly Keane

        Well assuming 48 pages then
        I’ll be naive and sweet about it
        and say 10 bulleted items per page

        That’s 480 Agenda Items
        Would ya give over Dan
        How did ye even have an orderly Standing Orders motion to adopt an Agenda with 480 separate items?

        Sorry Dan,
        While I’d be the first around here to say you’re the best writer on the live Broadsheet roster
        I’m calling that 48 page agenda a load of bulls-motions

        Anyway, just so that you know,
        Solidarity, PbP, Treble Ahs, Double Ds, Continuity Workers Party, IFA, ICA, FCA, and Independents for Rural Regeneration and Medical Cards …
        They all look and sound the same t’me

        But score one for yourself
        And have another one for me thinking Eamon Ryan had Local Government

        I should have known better than to think Minister for the Environment would still include Local Authorities

        Transport + Climate Change + Communications + SPADs all need a lot of space
        Tis no wonder the lad is knackered

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