ABOLITION THREAT HANGS OVER FERMOY TOWN COUNCIL
Town councillors in Fermoy and throughout the country could come under pressure to hold on to their jobs if a proposal made to abolish town councils in a radical shake up of local government across the country comes to fruition. Under the new plans, proposed by Fianna Fail at a parliamentary party meeting this week, one set of councillors would represent their area at town and county level.
With the new proposal now before the Government, many local people have been posing the question - Is Fermoy Town Council as it is now, serving the people of Fermoy? Serving the people? A council, be it a town or city or, indeed a community council, is elected by the people to serve the people.
Councillors are local men and women who, by definition, are elected to work for the people and to put in place services and amenities for the benefit of the whole community.
With this in mind can it be said that Fermoy town council and its elected councillors are effectively working for Fermoy? Or, has the council chamber become just a room where councillors argue about standing orders and motions from the meetings that have gone before?
While the councillors will argue that their time is spent working for Fermoy, is this really the case, or has the town council become a cosy club where voting pacts and personal agendas are the order of the day?
At the last council meeting, which was held at lunchtime because of the ongoing industrial action by members of the public service unions, some councillors could not attend the entire meeting because of their work commitments.
All the councillors knew this and they also knew that certain members would have to leave because they were at the meeting during their lunch break and so had only a certain amount of time.
However, instead of moving the meeting along, a heated debate broke out about standing orders, the list of motions and the agenda. This debate lasted so long that one councillor had to leave and was not present when the council addressed a list of her motions.
There were three members of the press present, one was bewildered by the scene while the other two commented that this was the norm or, in fact, tame for Fermoy Town Council.
So the question remains, is Fermoy Town Council serving those whom it represents? We put the following questions to the voters of Fermoy.
1 Is Fermoy Town Council effective?
2 What does Fermoy Town Council do?
3 What’s the difference between Fermoy Town Council and Cork County Council?
Mary McCarthy (42) was unaware of anything that Fermoy Town Council has done or achieved, “I don’t know what goes on there (in the town hall). All I ever hear is councillors giving out about things or getting their expenses for conferences and the likes. I really don’t think they do anything other than talk, argue and turn up at events and openings,” Ms McCarthy told The Avondhu.
“We have to have a town council and I think that overall they do a good job for the town,” John Paul McSweeney (65) said.
“For a town the size of Fermoy I think that we would be at a disadvantage if we didn’t have a town council,” John McCarthy (37) said.
However, for younger voters the town hall and its councillors seem to be almost irrelevant, “They have no power, they can pass all the motions they like, the Dail has the power and the money and that’s that,” John Buckley (23) said.
“It’s just a club as far as I am concerned, the same old voices looking after their own interests and this is not just Fermoy Town Council but the Dail as well. They all say that they want to work for the town and the people but it doesn’t take a blind man to see that they will look after their own interests first,” Colette Murphy (19) told The Avondhu.
John O’Mahony, 36, spoke to The Avondhu, as he was about to leave Fermoy to find work in England, “What jobs have they brought to the town? Sure, we hear them complain about the Government and about the economic situation but many of them were councillors during the good years and what did they do?
"Nothing, they couldn’t even get a shopping centre from the town, they left the weir fall apart and now it will have to be replaced or removed. The list goes on and on but you know it’s not their faults, we are worse for voting for them over and over again,” Mr O’Mahony said as he boarded the bus for Cork City to get the plane to London.
We put the same questions to all the councillors on Fermoy Town council.
1 IS FERMOY TOWN COUNCIL EFFECTIVE?
“The answer to this question rests with the electorate as my views would be perceived as prejudiced,” Cllr Tadgh O’Donovan (Lab).
“To be honest, and I’m a veteran councillor, I would have to answer ‘not enough’ to that question. Nobody runs for council without wanting the very best for their town but even with our best of intentions, we fall short. Unfortunately we have sometimes failed to rise above petty personal and party political bickering and we sometimes tend to become mired in pointless sniping,” Cllr John Murphy (Ind).
“No. There are too many personal agendas. There are people who use it as a springboard to further their political ambitions. There are councillors who will hang on until their old age to access rather large pay offs for years of service. There are councillors who are afraid of town managers because they are the ones with the real power,” Cllr Olive Corcoran (FF).
“The image of Fermoy Town Council has improved in the last year, compared to what had been the case over the previous decade. We passed a development plan that could have been very contentious, and have put in place the structures that will allow sustainable development on the eastern side of the town. The budget was also passed, which reduced the expenditure on allowances in favour of reducing rates on businesses, which was a responsible decision,” Cllr Pa O’Driscoll (FG).
“I will answer all the questions in one, I would be in favour of abolishing all town councils but only if there is to be a complete reshaping of local government. I would not want the county council to take over but I think a new system is needed,” Cllr Michael Hanley.
“I have only been a member of Fermoy Town Council for the past 11 months. During that time the elected members voted unanimously on the restructuring of the town development plan which I believe will be of huge benefit over the coming years in terms of facilitating new developments. We also approved a 2% rate reduction for businesses.
"On a smaller scale, the collective efforts of all nine councillors have resulted in repairs to footpaths, additional free parking and repairs to the council’s housing stock. While there may be heated exchanges in the council chamber from time to time that is no different to the goings on in council chambers up and down the country.
"As regards the effectiveness of the town council there is no substitute for direct access to those charged with taking care of public services. It has been said to me on several occasions that Mitchelstown would benefit from its own town council and that we should count ourselves lucky in Fermoy that there is a hands on approach to the management of local services.
"We do need reform of the structures in that county and town managers have too much power and it could be argued that elected members have not acted to check that power by acting in unison,” Cllr Noel McCarthy (Lab).
2 WHAT DOES FERMOY TOWN COUNCIL DO?
“I want to answer questions two and three together. Towns up and down the country without council status are at a disadvantage and have sought for years to gain the status of town council, very few have gained this. Towns like Bantry, Bandon and Passage West look on with envy to towns such as Fermoy and Mallow with their independent financial bases.
"For example, Fermoy Town Council determines its own commercial rates. At the moment of the nine towns that have an independent financial base, Fermoy has the second lowest rates.
"As an example of the difference between Fermoy Town Council and Cork County Council you just have to look at the planning and zoning of lands. Plans for Mitchelstown and other areas without town council status fall to the responsibility of county councillors based in other areas, not so in Fermoy,” Cllr Tadgh O’Donovan (Lab).
All day, every day “Fermoy Town Council, as an administrative body, commences work at 8am and finishes at 10.30pm when the park closes. That said, in emergencies we’re available all day, every day,” Cllr John Murphy (Ind).
“The council is a landlord and a rent and rates collector with huge funding from the taxpayer and are supposed to provide proper services for the people of the town.
"However, I am on record as saying that I believe that they do not provide an adequate service for the people, one only has to look at other town without a town council to see that services can be better. The councillors although they like to believe otherwise are merely lobbyists, with no great input into the implementation of change,” Cllr Olive Corcoran (FF).
“In general town councils need reform. They have very limited powers, and the boundaries need to be expanded to take into account the growth of towns, especially over the last two decades.
"In the case of Fermoy, most of the residents of Fermoy live outside the town council area, which does not make sense. I’ve said before that town councils should be abolished in favour of district councils, which was first proposed by Bobby Molloy in the early 1990s, but never implemented.
"Such a reform should be included in an overall reform of local and national government, which Minister Gormley is examining at the moment,” Cllr Pa O’Driscoll (FG)
ONE STOP SHOP
“Fermoy Town Council is charged with the running and maintenance of public services in Fermoy town ranging from housing provision and footpath repair to the management of the local swimming pool and fire services. It is a one-stop shop for the administering of a whole host of services.
"The town council is funded by the taxpayer and it is the ordinary citizen just like me who on being elected to the council must ensure that this money is effectively spent. We also have a responsibility to the people of Fermoy to make decisions in relation to planning and services that will have benefits for everyone,” Cllr Noel McCarthy (Lab).
3 WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FERMOY TOWN COUNCIL AND CORK COUNTY COUNCIL?
“Fermoy Town Council’s bailiwick extends as far as St Patrick’s Avenue, Grattan Terrace, Uplands, Barnane Walk, Castlehyde Road, Dairygold on the Dublin Road, SuperValu on the Tallow Road and the corner of Rathealy Road and the Pike Road. Beyond that Cork County Council is in charge. Any rates collected outside that area goes to the county council,” Cllr John Murphy (Ind).
“I believe that there is no difference between Fermoy Town Council and Cork County Council, both sets of councillors can only get things done by lobbying local sitting TDs,” Cllr Olive Corcoran (FF)
“Primarily the budget. Fermoy Town Council operates on a relatively small budget compared to the resources available to Cork County Council. There are also certain services, which Fermoy Town Council is not charged with such as water.
"There has been a gradual erosion of powers of the town council in that services like water and sewerage and refuse are increasing controlled by the county. We argue for a clear delineation. If you argue for more powers for town councils then you have to argue that revenue raising could be concentrated locally,” Cllr Noel McCarthy (Lab)
Thursday 27th May 7:22pm