How The System Works

or doesn’t work as the case tends to be! A look at local government.

Back in 2009 when I first sat on Laois CDB, County Development Board, I received a briefing by a member of another county development board. This was my big step from community activist to representative so I was eager to understand the process. I now had to represent the environment which is something I take pretty seriously given the state of it.

The old CDBs were the go to place for development in a local authority area. How they worked depended greatly upon the civil servants managing them. Laois was pretty good in so far as the members had sub groups and actually got involved with developing projects on the ground. The council had a good working relationship with the local development company, Laois Partnership and a shared vision including spend, especially LEADER funding, was a great arrangement.

In training for my role I received two warnings of tactics to be aware of while representing the environment on Laois CDB. First was to ensure that when I felt I had made an important suggestion I should check the minutes of the meeting. It’s not uncommon for suggestions which may mean change to be omitted from the minutes. It has happened me at least twice – once in Laois and once in Clare.  That’s not to say that what is included in the minutes will actually happen but you have some comeback if your suggestion is recorded.

The second point I consider the basis of why our system is broken. In order for a politician to get elected they must promise their constituents something. Lets use potholes as an example. So the hopeful politician canvasses and says they’ll sort out the potholes. They get in and now they must deliver on that promise if they want to be elected in for another term. Who actually fixes the potholes? Local authority staff. Who tells them to? Local authority management. Who must the politician be nice to in order to get their potholes fixed? Management and staff of the local authority.

Do you think this would make a politician likely to upset the system? Do you think it would encourage them to suggest change? Do you think that would encourage them to ask questions that probably should be asked to ensure accountability and transparency? Do you think this would encourage the politician to critique the system? To propose efficiency measures?

I don’t think so. Even though they know things need to change their instinct is to keep their position for as long as possible so they do not rock the boat. Herein lies the reason your elected councillors are unable to fix the system. The best person to challenge the local authority is a retiring councillor and even at that they may fear the repercussions for their party.

Simple really.

How to change that? Make sure politicians can only sit for one term as a councillor and while they are there they should liaise closely with their constituents. Encourage them to rock the boat, to demand accountability, efficiency and transparency.

Theresa O’Donohoe

August 4th 2018

Published by Theresa OD

Change maker and mother of 5 living in the west of Ireland

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