From top: Taoiseach Micheál Martin (left) greeting Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien (right), whose Land Development Agency Bill will strip powers from local authorities; Dan Boyle
One of my motivations in contesting the 2019 local elections, was the possibility that there might soon be a following election for an executive Mayor for Cork.
If it were to happen I felt I could offer myself as a candidate with experience who could meet the challenge of the position.
A referendum on that issue was narrowly defeated in Cork, but was approved in Limerick. That city will get to implement the first, and only, real advance in local democracy in the history of the State.
As regards local government in Ireland, its history has been extremely poor. That history has been a catalogue of diminishing functions and powers since the inception of the State.
Sadly that ball started in Cork City with the application of the Cork City Management Act, 1929, which separated the executive functions of a local authority away from its elected members.
Since I was first elected to what was then Cork Corporation in 1991, that diminution of functions has continued unabated.
The Council to which I was elected was a housing authority which had a self build capacity. It was a planning authority of first instance, not by passed as with strategic housing developments.
It was a waste management authority. It was a water authority.
When the various functions of local authorities were not being moved to newly established, ever more distant quangos, the remaining decision making powers were being shifted from elected councillors to appointed officials within the councils themselves.
Within this bill is a provision to remove the power from elected councillors to vote on the disposal of property to the Agency. This is wrong on a number of levels.
Not only does it remove one of the few, important and necessary powers of elected councillors, it virtually gifts land to the Agency where it may be developed without cognisance of the wider development goals of an area.
This is being proposed because of a mistaken belief that local oversight is inconvenient to the development of housing, and may be subject to political abuse.
Oversight should never be seen as inconvenient. Failing to politically convince is hardly an abuse. Too often we have had legislation that has used an administrative machete to achieve desired goals.
The proposed legislation has had the surprise effect of uniting councillors, from all political parties and none, in their opposition to the bill.
Whether this will be enough to stop its progress is hard to see. After all years of emasculating Irish local government has gone unhindered due to the acquiescence of generations of councillors.
The other significant difference between 1991 and now was that the Council I was elected to then contained ten members of the Oireachtas, nine TDs and a Senator. The ending of the dual mandate has accelerated the weakening of local government.
Central government has only been too happy to weaken local government. All the while allowing back bench TDs operate as if they were still councillors.
The parish pump remains a flood risk to real reform in our political system. Change in any sense remains inconvenient.
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