Thursday, 2 February 2012

Questions (2)

Mattie McGrath


3Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the status of the amalgamation of South Tipperary County Council and North Tipperary County Council; the proposed location for the new head office; the savings to be made; his views on the fact that amalgamating town and borough councils into county councils would yield much greater cost savings and would be far more practical than amalgamating two whole county councils; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6177/12]

View answer

Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government)

The Government decided in July 2011 that a unified local authority would be established to replace the existing north and south Tipperary county councils with effect from the 2014 local elections. An implementation group was appointed to oversee planning, preparatory work and initial implementation of the reorganisation process. The group submitted a progress report to me in November 2011, in accordance with its terms of reference. This report, which is published on my Department's website indicated good progress with the unification process and identified a range of positive outcomes from unification, including reduced administrative costs and overheads, effective deployment of human resources, more streamlined, effective and coherent delivery of customer services across the county, and streamlining of other existing county structures.

The implementation group had considered that both of the existing office headquarters in Clonmel and Nenagh should be retained with equal status and that a location in the centre of the county should be identified for meetings of the unified council. The implementation group is due to complete an implementation plan by May 2012, which will provide further details and guide the reorganisation process up to the establishment of the unified authority in 2014. Building on decisions already taken, including the merger of the county councils in Tipperary, I intend to bring wider policy proposals to Government in the near future on local government reform and development, with particular attention being given to strengthening local government structures generally at regional, county and sub-county levels and expanding the role of local government. Decisions on any further changes in local authority structures, including decisions on municipal governance within counties, will be a matter for the Government in that context.

The Minister said there is an implementation group which, as he knows, I have an issue with in terms of its make-up. I welcome the fact there will be a progress report which I have seen and read. Where will the savings be made? The Minister said there would be savings in administration. If there will be two headquarters, what will be different from what is currently in place? We will have to acquire another premises unless the council meets at the Rock of Cashel, which the OPW might facilitate. The Minister also referred to the delivery of better and more streamlined services. I do not know how that will happen. We will still have offices and two administrations. The Minister has not answered my question on town councils. I ask him to enlighten me about that in his reply.

I will be able to enlighten the Deputy further on town councils and borough councils in about two months time when I will bring proposals about local government matters and structures generally to Government. At that time I will also indicate where savings can be made by all local authorities, including Tipperary. We can achieve a lot more in savings by streamlining all of the activities in local government to one particular structure in Co Tipperary. We would see the effective delivery of those structures without duplication. We have seen this happen already over the years, such as the library service which merged north and south to form one library service. That is the sort of model we will see across a range of services delivered by local government in County Tipperary and I expect considerable savings will be made which will enhance its economic and social development.

I will get an answer in two months time. It is like the answer to previous questions. We are expected to accept there will be standards but the Minister will not tell us when they will be delivered. There is the same mystique around this. The Minister likes to create mystique around himself and his position and we have to wait and see what will happen. Money was put into offices in Waterford to maintain and enhance the status quo.

We clash every September, as in the all-Ireland final which is fine because it is sporting, but there is no need to beat up those in Tipperary because we do not take kindly to that. The Ceann Comhairle has an interest in Tipperary. We do not lie down easily and there is an old saying: "Where Tipperary leads Ireland follows." I ask the Minister to make haste slowly.

I do not see where savings can be made because where there was one headquarters there will now be two. I understand from some colleagues that the Minister has changed his mind on the town council aspect. I will have to wait for white smoke from the Fine Gael early Parliamentary Party like we had last night. I welcome what was decided. Perhaps something will happen here. I am not happy.

Why did the Minister pick retired Government officials to be part of the advisory group when 465,000 people are unemployed, some of whom are highly skilled and have a clean image? I am not saying the officials were bad but they are retired and were obviously partisan because of their views over the years. The Minister knows that. Why did he not pick unemployed people rather than bringing back retired people? He also appointed a north Tipperary county manager to chair the group which is not fair to south Tipperary.

I am surprised Deputy McGrath has a problem with a Tipperary man serving as an acting manager of County Tipperary structures. It does not augur well for the future in terms of unifying the country.

No it does is not.

As a Kilkenny man I am delighted to be able to bring about that reunification because the Deputy has a protectionist mentality about north and south Tipperary-----

We stopped Cromwell.

------which I am delighted to be able to overcome and bring them together. I can assure the Deputy-----

It is a bulldozing approach.

-----that I am not bulldozing. I am taking my time. The Deputy looked for answers today and I told him I would give him some on local government in County Tipperary in two months time, which is a reasonable length of time. Equally, there are people with the skills required to bring about savings and administrative structures in local government. Not everybody has the skills, including the Deputy and I.

It will not affect the hurling team anyway.