Dáil debates

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Local Authority Boundaries

7:20 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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Clonmel is the largest town in Tipperary. It is the county town and has a population of more than 17,000 people or 11% of the population of the county. The last Fine Gael-Labour Party Government that was in office from 2011 to 2016 significantly damaged Clonmel. It abolished Clonmel Borough Council; it closed the 50-bed St. Michael's psychiatric unit in South Tipperary General Hospital; it closed Kickham Barracks, a military establishment in Clonmel since 1650, with the loss of 150 jobs and approximately €10 million that was spent annually; and it transferred the headquarters of the vocational education committee from Clonmel.

The Minister of State's recent decision regarding the municipal district of Clonmel and Cahir has made matters worse. Far from restoring the borough council, it makes Clonmel the second smallest municipal district in the county. It significantly reduces funding to the town and it reduces staffing. As the district manager told the Minister of State recently at a meeting in the town hall in Clonmel, a practical example of this was where it had been proposed that the current scheme for the centre of the town enhancement programme in O'Connell Street, Gladstone Street and Irishtown was to be done over a five-year period, it will now take ten years. The Minister of State's decision has also undermined local democracy further. It removes Cahir, which is in the hinterland of Clonmel and has always been associated with Clonmel, from the municipal district. I ask the Minister of State to reverse that decision and to be fair to Clonmel and the local area.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this Topical Issue matter and for his forbearance. This is an example of a smash and grab. We had an independent review, the findings of which we all accepted. Tipperary County Council and others made their submissions to it and we accepted it. This is going back to the Tullymandering days of the heavy gang in the 1973-77 coalition. Fine Gael paid the price for that.

This is an outright attack on Clonmel and Cahir. As Deputy Healy said, Clonmel, our county town, has been destroyed. As I have said, we kept Cromwell out of it but we could not keep the then Minister, Phil Hogan, out of it when he destroyed our borough council, which we had for centuries and in which we had great pride. We had €15.1 million of a fund in those days. We have only pennies now, crumbs from the table in Nenagh, which is a secondary town and it was always was, and I have nothing against the people of Nenagh. With respect to the county manager and his three-man team, Mr. McEvoy agreed to the amalgamation with respect to roads, planning and finance in terms of Nenagh and left Clonmel with precious little.

Putting Cahir in with Tipperary and Cashel is a travesty and an injustice. There is not even a road, or a hiking path, over the Galtee Mountains to get from Skeheenaranky or Burncourt, or Araglin or indeed Clogheen to Tipperary Town. One has to go into County Cork, into County Limerick and back to Tipperary or else go back into Cahir or Bansha. It is unjust. Who gives the Minister of State the right to do this? The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, stood up here and said that the boundary commission did not do its job right and that they were going to add to it. That is outright Fine Gael arrogance; arrogance of the highest order. Its members think they can do what they like with the people but the people will have the final say and they are waiting for them in the long grass.

This is unworkable. They did not include the Tipperary name in the district. The Minister of State apologised for that, and he said something about getting married. I wish him and his wife well in their marriage but this is disgraceful. They omitted to include the brand name of Tipperary. What kind of officials were they who would think of the name of a district without including the name of Tipperary, which is recognised all over the world? I know the Minister of State represents Kilkenny, as did the then Minister, Phil Hogan, big Phil the enforcer, as I like to call him, but this coming from the Minister of State was outrageous. We kept Cromwell out but we cannot keep his interference out of Clonmel and Cahir, destroying the area and forcing us into an area that is unworkable, too distant from us, and this also resulting in a loss of money to the area.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister of State should remember his wedding when replying.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I will.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I wish you well.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputies for raising this issue. Changes to local electoral areas may only be carried out following the completion of a review, by an independent boundary committee, established under section 28 of the Local Government Act 1991. The Act states that the Minister must have regard to the report of a boundary committee before deciding on whether to make an order amending local electoral areas. The terms of reference for a boundary committee are set by the Minister.

A municipal district is an administrative sub-division of a local authority, as designated by ministerial order, and is therefore separate and distinct, although obviously linked to local electoral areas.

Local authority members and the Association of Irish Local Government had raised concerns regarding a number of issues in respect of local electoral areas. A concern was raised regarding the need to ensure large urban centres were adequately represented. I established two independent local electoral area committees, committees Nos. 1 and 2 in December 2017, to review and make recommendations on local electoral areas. In response to the concerns raised, I specifically asked the committees to have regard to, among other things, the need to ensure adequate representation for large urban centres.

The recommendations in the local electoral area boundary committee reports in respect of electoral boundaries were accepted in full. Alas, Deputy Mattie McGrath was around during the era of the Tullymander, which he mentioned.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I was around.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Boundaries for electoral purposes were accepted in full in Tipperary and everywhere else. The issue of municipal district boundaries was not one that committees were asked to adjudicate upon but one of the committees chose to do so, in spite of the fact that one of the distinct terms of reference was that each of the five former boroughs would have its own separate municipal district. I reiterate that the boundary committee reports, in terms of local electoral area boundaries, were accepted in full. I signed the statutory instruments on 19 December. I was married on 21 December, as Deputy McGrath pointed out.

The overall policy objectives, particularly regarding large urban electoral areas with populations in excess of 15,000, were largely met but were not in the case of several of the former boroughs.

In considering how best to configure the municipal districts in Tipperary and in order to ensure that Clonmel is adequately represented, I designated a distinct municipal district entitled "Borough District of Clonmel". The local electoral areas of Cahir and Cashel-Tipperary were aligned in a single municipal district. I visited Clonmel and Tipperary town recently to discuss the municipal districts with local members. We will certainly in the next week or so be changing the name of Cahir-Cashel-Tipperary municipal district to include the name Tipperary.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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How could you have left it out?

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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More generally, the case for the replacement of the out-of-date town authority regime with a new model of municipal governance under the Local Government Reform Act 2014 was and remains very strong. Local government has been strengthened within counties and inefficient administration and duplication between town and county authorities, regarding matters such as budgeting, planning, rating and charges, have been dealt with. The fundamental democratic deficit that existed in the old system where certain citizens got two votes and others got one has been removed. There is now full integration of local authority resources across each county and an elimination of duplication both in administrative and electoral terms.

Citizens who live in large and growing population centres and rural areas, who previously lacked any sub-county representative governance, now have municipal districts representing and responding to their local needs and I am satisfied with the operation of those arrangements.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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The situation is obvious. Decisions the Minister of State has taken have damaged and further damage Clonmel and Cahir and they continue the serious damage done to the town of Clonmel during the term of the previous Government. The decisions they have taken are unbalanced. The moving of Cahir to Tipperary and Cashel in this respect is completely without justification. There is no connection between the two areas. Cahir was always related to Clonmel. The only adequate way to represent towns is to re-establish boroughs and town councils, and the Minister of State should do that immediately.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I wish the Minister of State well. He definitely took his eye off the ball, as did his officials who designed this new area, including Tipperary, Cashel and Cahir, and they left out the name of Tipperary. They should not be getting paid by any Department because of such a disconnection with respect to the brand name of Tipperary, which we can market around the county. This is an outright attack, nothing short of it, a Fine Gael attack. The Minister of State came to Clonmel, we met him and he saw the resistance there. Tipperary County Council voted overwhelmingly to oppose this at its most recent meeting. When the Minister of State went on to Tipperary he got a lovely gift - I hope it was Tipperary crystal - from his Fine Gael colleague, Councillor Michael Fitzgerald, the cathaoirleach. That was nothing short of a bribe.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I do not mean a bribe.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy does not mean that.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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No, I do not mean a bribe but it was a nice little jolly present. Perhaps it was for the wedding, and perhaps I am wrong.

Nonetheless, it is not a laughing matter. This has done untold damage to the town of Clonmel, a proud town with a proud history. As I said, we kept Cromwell out of it but we cannot keep Fine Gael from destroying it - the Army barracks, St Michael's hospital and the VEC, not to mention the loss of services to the county council.

7:30 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Deputy.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Has the Minister of State given any consideration to the staff of the county council, such as the outdoor staff and the engineering staff who have to try to manage this but who will not be able to manage it, as well as the loss of revenue to Clonmel due to the roles that will go from Cahir to Tipperary? He has given none.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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On the issue of Clonmel being attached to Cahir, in my time in local government, Clonmel and Cahir were always two separate districts. I understand and I fully accept the geographical issue that there are difficulties in getting from Cahir to Cashel because of natural boundaries that exist in that part of the world.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Of course there are; the Galtee Mountains.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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However, with regard to the understanding from Deputy Healy that there has always been a connection, there has not been. The connection was established in the last review, which put Cahir and Clonmel into the same district.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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There was a connection.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please allow the Minister of State to respond.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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It was up to Tipperary County Council to read the terms of reference and make a submission accordingly. I completely refute the accusation made. In fact, it was at the behest of local authority members, as well as some Members of this House, that the former borough towns would have a separate municipal district with a view to giving them extra status. The idea that this reduces the status of Clonmel-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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What about the money?

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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I am only answering the question. The idea that this reduces the status of Clonmel-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It does.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, Deputy.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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-----bears no resemblance to the truth.

Deputy McGrath asked who or what gives me the right. The designation of municipal districts is a ministerial function, not a function of any electoral boundary review because municipal districts are not electoral boundaries of themselves but are administrative boundaries. I want to state to the people of Clonmel there will be no loss of funding to the citizen.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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There is.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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There is not. It is a dishonest argument of the two Deputies. It is completely dishonest to suggest that the money that is allocated for Cahir is somehow money for Clonmel when it is not. The central funding will not be adversely affected for Clonmel. It will receive the same, if not increased, funding into the future as under the Local Government Fund.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Minister of State does not understand it.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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That is the truth.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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It is reducing it.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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Both Deputies are making some valid points but there is a central dishonesty if they believe this is going to reduce because it is not going to reduce.

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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It is Fine Gael dishonesty.

Photo of John Paul PhelanJohn Paul Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fine Gael)
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It is going to place extra emphasis on having a separate and distinct municipal district for Clonmel.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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At least it is good that we could finish Topical Issues in such an animated fashion. I wonder if the Aircraft Noise (Dublin Airport) Regulation Bill 2018 will excite as much energy.