'THEY SHOULD LEAVE US ALONE'

SHOCK AND DISAPPOINTMENT FROM WEXFORD'S SITTING BOROUGH COUNCILLORS

MARIA PEPPER

THE PROPOSED ABOLITION of Wexford Borough Council has been greeted with shock and disappointment by many councillors who currently sit on the local authority.

'It's absolutely atrocious,' reacted Green Party member Danny Forde to Environment Minister Phil Hogan's announcement.

'It is a retrograde step and a downgrading of democracy which I'm surprised the Labour Party is standing over,' he said.

Cllr. Forde who is serving his first term on the Borough Council said the proposal will damage the access that people have to local representation.

Fianna Fail man Fergie Kehoe, also enjoying his first term on the Borough, said he is all in favour of local government reform but not at the level proposed by Minister Hogan.

'I think he is hitting the wrong level - the level closest to the people,' said Cllr. Kehoe, adding that if the Minister reduced the number of T.D.'s, he would save more money.

'Wexford Borough Council would keep eight members by getting rid of one T.D.'

' The average salary of a Wexford Borough Council member is €8,500,' he said.

Cllr. Kehoe is worried that when new Municipal Districts are formed, Wexford town rates may be brought into line with County Council rates which are higher.

' The current rate in town is 53c in the Euro. The County Council rate is 73c in the Euro. That is an increase of 40%. There is no way that any new councillor could be in favour of an increase like that.'

The Government's proposal to establish a website fixyourstreet.ie to allow people to report road, lighting and environmental problems, will create a ' ludicrous situation,' according to Cllr. Kehoe.

'We're told people will get a response withing two working days. But that's not the issue, the issue is that there is no funding to do the work.'

The current Mayor of Wexford, Clllr. Jim Allen is, like Minister Hogan, a member of Fine Gael.

But party allegiance aside, he can't help seeing ' the negative' in the plan.

'I understand that cuts have to be made in all departments but lack of money should never be the reason for a reform of democracy.'

'It should be because there is something wrong in the relationship between the democratic process and the people,' said Cllr. Allen.

'We had Mayors at the height of recession in the 1950's and 1960's who provided leadership and spoke on behalf of the people of Wexford.'

Cllr. Allen said he accepted the move to curtail the power of councillors to over-turn planning decisions as this was a recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal.

But he is disappointed that an earlier promise of additional powers for councillors, has not been fulfilled.

Cllr. Allen said he intends to fight within his own party for the retention of Wexford Borough Council.

Another Fine Gael councillor Anna Fenlon who sits on the Borough and County Councils said ' it is a sad day for Wexford that we are losing the Borough Council.' 'It has been in existence for nearly 700 years... and to be honest , I don't see how the people of Wexford are going to be represented now.' 'I think the Borough Council should be left alone,' she said. Independent councillor Padge Reck, another member of both authorities, said Minister Hogan is abolishing the veto enjoyed by councillors on planning because he doesn't trust councillors.

'I'd like to remind him that he was a councillor for 21 years,' said Cllr. Reck.

In his view, the proposed new Municipal Districts will effectively be 'subcommittes of the County Council.'

' They will have no authority and no power. It's all smoke and mirrors.'

Cllr. Reck who has been a full-time public representative for 35 years, said people will only realise the value of the existing system when it's gone.

'I can say I have been totally committed to working on behalf of the people of Wexford 24-hours a day, seven days a week and the only thing I got out of it was bad health.'

'If the people are not prepared to fight for that sort of representation, then they will have to suffer the consequences. It's only when it's not there that people will realise how important it was.'

Labour councillor and former Mayor George Lawlor said Wexford will retain the mayoralty. 'Obviously, it's always a difficult time when change is proposed.'

'However Wexford will still retain its Mayor and it's boundary will be extended to take in the Wexford electoral district.'

'Obviously, there will always be a tinge of regret when you think of the history but Wexford town will still be there and will still be the same place but the boundary wil be extended again.'

Cllr. Lawlor said change is definitely needed when you consider that Gorey Town Council has an annual budget of €145,000 and it has nine members.

His understanding is that the Wexford Municipal Borough will have 10 councillors with the other three Districts in the county having eight each.

These 34 councillors will form the membership of Wexford County Council.

'I'm optimistic that we can do this properly and have more efficient local government with proper representation,' he said.

'I think we will have more focussed representation.'

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