November 30: O’Donovan - nothing to fear from abolition of Limerick local councils

Tim Ryan

Reporter:

Tim Ryan

If one were to ask any businessperson, ratepayer or person on the street if they are concerned about the abolition of town councils, they would say they are not, once they know the services will not be reduced and the rates will not increase, Deputy Patrick O’Donovan told the Dáil. Those are the two things that concern people.

If one were to ask any businessperson, ratepayer or person on the street if they are concerned about the abolition of town councils, they would say they are not, once they know the services will not be reduced and the rates will not increase, Deputy Patrick O’Donovan told the Dáil. Those are the two things that concern people.

Speaking on the new Local Government Bill, he said he was from a town of nearly 8,500 people. “We do not have a town council,” he said. “It was abolished in the 1950s and formally went off the Statute Book in the 1990s. Our experience is much the same as what is proposed in the Bill in that the local electoral area committee essentially became the town council for Newcastle West. It also became the town council for places such as Abbeyfeale, Dromcollogher, Rathkeale and Ardagh along with other towns and villages. There is not massive fear.”

Regarding shared services, Limerick has a population of 190,000, he said. “We will have a single library service, a single environment service, a single housing service, etc. The four counties with the smallest populations that adjoin each other have a combined population of less than Limerick. While each of them will have its own county manager, we need to consider increased levels of shared services. For argument’s sake, do we need individual librarians, chief fire officers, and directors of services for environment, housing and sanitary services, each of whom is drawing a salary of in excess of €100,000, in each local authority covering populations of 40,000, 50,000 or 60,000? I do not believe we do. There might be an opportunity for increased roles for senior executive engineers.”

Deputy O’Donovan said the Department, in conjunction with the County and City Managers Association, needs to examine the expectation that it is to be a part-time job with whole-time hours.

“It needs to insist that local authority members are facilitated in having meetings at times outside the normal working day,” he said. “We are reducing the number of councils and local authority members and expecting them to cover even bigger areas. In our part of the world we have new electoral areas in Kilmallock, Newcastle West and Rathkeale that are gigantic. They are bigger than most Dáil constituencies. To be fair to those people, we need mechanisms in place to accommodate them properly if we are to prevent what we are seeing now, which is very good young local authority members announcing they will not stand in the next local election because it is conflicting with their jobs. They cannot get time off and their employers are rightly complaining.”

Revenue targeting fuel laundering gangs - Noonan

Fuel laundering became more viable and criminal gangs intensified their laundering and distribution activities dramatically from the first half of 2011 as a result of changes in the environmental standards of sulphur content, Finance Minister Michael Noonan told the Dáil.

Revenue collects some €1.1 billion annually in excise duty on road diesel, he said and therefore, the potential for loss of tax revenue from this fraud is significant.

“This type of criminality also undermines legitimate businesses, damages the environment, can damage consumers’ vehicles and sustains organised criminal gangs which are the prime movers in this illegality,” he said. “Recognising the threat this illegal activity poses to the Exchequer and legitimate business, the Revenue Commissioners have made action against illegal fuel-related activities one of their top corporate priorities, adopting a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem with several elements.”

Minister Noonan said the licensing regime for auto fuel traders was strengthened with effect from September 2011 to limit the ability of the fuel criminals to get laundered fuel onto the market. A new licensing regime was introduced for marked fuel traders in 2012, which is designed to limit the ability of criminals to source marked fuel for laundering.

Revenue regularly reminds motorists and the public generally that, in addition to its impact on the Exchequer and legitimate trade, they should be aware of the risks posed to their vehicles by using laundered fuel, as well as the fact that sourcing fuel in this way is funding criminal activity, he said. Retailers who suspect or have evidence that laundered diesel is being sold in their area can help by reporting their suspicions to Revenue either directly or through their representative associations. Such reports are treated as confidential and fully investigated by Revenue.