Thursday, 12 May 2022
Media Report on Governance in Local Authorities: Statements
Aisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. I was elected as a Galway county councillor. As with Senator Flynn. it was a brand new world for me.I had little understanding of what is done by a local authority. It was a steep learning curve to understand how the local authority in any particular county, such as, for example, Galway County Council, is involved in so many aspects of our day-to-day lives. In terms of water supply, Irish Water is working with Galway County Council and local authorities and councils across the country, but the local authorities took the lead on that. We are trying to put other supports in place to support them in how they deliver these services. It was a shock to discover that there is a lack of resources or staffing within certain county councils and that this affects their ability to deliver the services that are required. In order to ensure that Ireland has county councils that are fit for purpose and that deliver the services, it is crucial they are staffed adequately and that we understand there are challenges within certain areas. Under Housing for All, the Government is allocating staff to work within the local authorities to deliver on the massive target of 30,000 houses per year, and to ensure that we are working within our towns.
The reason I ran for election was that, to my mind and to my community's mind, there was an inappropriate planning decision for a waste transfer station, whereby they were planning - and are still planning - to force hundreds of trucks through the middle of the town of Ballinasloe, which has a population of 6,500. At a national level, we talk about air pollution, clean air, clean water and environmental standards and demands. We need to ensure for the public that the national policies and initiatives are being correctly managed within our county councils and authorities.
Perhaps this also comes down to communication. Local authorities are doing so much in so many areas that it can be hard to get the message out there. It is crucial, however. People in every town and village need to understand what their local authority does for them, even at a municipal district level. For example, Ballinasloe has had major flooding in the past. Under the OPW, it is one of the catchment flood risk assessment and management projects for flood relief with regard to the River Shannon and one of its main tributaries, the River Suck. Many towns across the country prioritise tackling flooding. It is incredible that chief executives, managers, directors and the teams of local authority staff on the ground are the ones bringing out the sandbags. They are the ones working with businesses and residents in times of crisis. When a crisis hits, it is the teams working in the local authorities that people go to. They are the ones who help people on the ground, in particular the most vulnerable. For the most part, they prioritise that. I know there are also huge issues in Roscommon around flooding and trying to protect families and homes.
While things need to be challenged and we need to have appropriate services in place, it is also important to talk about the activities that local authorities do and what they deliver to our communities and our businesses. We talk about rates. At a Government level, we are aware of the supports in place for businesses through the employment wage subsidy scheme and so on, but we also put a pause on rates over the past year or two years. We need to make sure that our businesses understand what they receive in return and what are the benefits of the rates they pay, be it lighting, footpaths, street enhancement or all the projects we see rolled out at Government level. Those town enhancement projects are coming out of the Department of Rural and Community Development. We see how that makes a difference when we have street enhancement and town enhancement to tackle dereliction and vacancy. We want to make sure towns in all areas, particularly in regional and rural areas, are fit for the future and that we encourage more people to come back to live, work and invest in our local areas.
That is down to having teams within our councils. We have fantastic engineers in municipal districts across our country, trying to deliver they best that they can, but we need to ensure they have wraparound supports and administrative services. I am very conscious of this because Galway County Council is always ranked low in terms of financing, and that is something we need to be conscious of. Again, I want to acknowledge the communication of everything that is done well by our local authorities.