Primetime on Tuesday May 13th took a look at the Effectiveness of Local Government in Ireland. There was a four man panel with buzz words like power, democracy, sustainability, representation and a lot about control!
It was effectively two government representatives defending the reform measures and two opposition representatives arguing that they were the worst measures EVER. Yawn. Political ping pong is way too boring and you always know that they could switch over to the other argument as soon as their party told them. No real commitment. No real heart. No real conviction. Just political jargon and an argument.
Hardly ever was the heart of local democracy mentioned. Community came up but only in the context of what they would lose when the reform measures came in. Or how they would benefit from the savings made.
Democracy comes down to representation. To represent someone you have to know about their opinions and their vision. That comes down to communication. You stand a chance of representing someone effectively if you communicate enough with them to know what they want. How can someone who knocks on your door once every 5 years know what you want?
My experience of representation to date has been an attitude of permission – “I have been democratically elected therefore I have permission to make decisions for my minions.” The elected “I” rarely, if ever, goes back to the minions to ask what the minions want or consult them for their opinion so that they may best represent them!
They are also bound to the council officials. If they do not tow the council line they risk not having their potholes fixed or their libraries built which then makes them out to be ineffective for their voters and they don’t get voted in again. I have great sympathy for councillors -they are not individuals, they do not own themselves. They are owned by their party, their council and then by their voters. Family is a measly 4th or 3rd if you’re independent and not owned by some cause.
On a recent trip to RTE here I am with Michael Ewing, coordinator of the Environmental Pillar and Miriam O’Callaghan.
It may be viewed here far a few more days http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10282760/
How to change that!?
Minister Hogan appointed a working group on citizen engagement and the recommendations from their report have been included in the reform process.
Including communities is paramount to local governance.
Community group representatives are not bound by a party whip or a national stance on policy. The reform measures mean that every single group has the right to be represented on the Public Participation Network – PPN. These representatives then have the right to select who goes on to represent them on decision making bodies and boards. There are also measures to ensure good communications and feed back through the PPN.
So local Government Reform is long overdue and I feel it’s heading in the right direction – public participation. Effectively while the number of sitting councillors may have shrunk, the number of grass roots community representatives will increase. There is more to the structures that I am not going to expand upon unless you would like more info. Suffice to say I am really excited about them and see how they have the potential to revolutionise local government and local democracy.
Theresa O’Donohoe – May 2014