Thursday, 12 May 2022
Media Report on Governance in Local Authorities: Statements
Eileen Flynn (Independent)
I have spoken in this House time and again about the continued failure of some local authorities. To name just one issue, I will focus a little on their failure to provide Traveller accommodation year after year. During my ten years of working in this area with members of the Traveller community and in the area of accommodation, I have found that things in local authorities fall apart more often than they fall together. Government does not hold local authorities to account. In the two years I have been a Senator, I have focused on accountability and transparency in local government. Let us put our hands up.
To be fair to local county councillors who are independent of political parties, they have little or no power. I speak to county councillors up and down the country who tell me they have absolutely no power. While they may be able to pass motions here and there, when it comes to drawing down money, building roads, etc., they do not have the power. We should, by right, give power back to the people who are voted in by communities. If a local authority member is voted in by the Ballyfermot community, he or she is there to represent the community of Ballyfermot. Unfortunately, that is not the case because the system underpinning local authorities has failed and will continue to fail unless we do something about it.
After watching the "RTÉ Investigates" programme, one Senator said there were no surprises in it. As a member of the Traveller community, given the continuous failure I have seen in Tallaght, Ballyfermot, Clondalkin and other places all over the country, I was not surprised. However, I was surprised at how a local county councillor could not get an independent inspection done in relation to what was going on in local authority. For me, the most striking part of the whole programme was that a person who was voted by the community could not get an inspection done after all of the work she did to get an inquiry.
I could talk all day about the programme. The truth of the matter is the job of the Government and local government is to govern. Unfortunately, we are not seeing that in local authorities. Local government belongs to the public. It is a trust fund of the people. As legislators, we need to listen to the people. We have not done that. I remember when Dublin City Council was known as Dublin Corporation. It failed then and is failing now. Again, that is not a failure by the individuals who are voted in by communities because, unfortunately, they have little or no power. It is the system and we need to rebuild it. I am aware that legislation is under review and I welcome that.
If we take anything from this investigation, it should be that real reform of local authorities is needed, not just changing names but genuinely reforming the system so that it works for the people on the ground and our county councillors. We have been failing our county councillors. As a member of the Traveller community, I gave out to my Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin and People Before Profit councillors for ten years. Until I came to this House, I did not realise that county councillors had little or no power. It is the system that needs to be fixed.
I will end by saying again that we are talking about public funds that benefit our people. Members of the public must be able to trust their local authority and, right now, they cannot do that. I welcome the current review and people on the ground would genuinely welcome better, sustainable local government which the Government held to account. Local authorities must answer to people and cannot be left to monitor themselves