Before he headed off to Brussels to become a European Commissioner, Minister for Local Government, Phil Hogan, took the decision to abolish Clonmel Corporation seven years ago
According to a recent report in this newspaper, members of Clonmel Borough Council have asked for the holding of a referendum on the public’s attitude on the decision by the Government seven years ago to abolish Clonmel Corporation. That decision was taken during the period when Mr Phil Hogan was Minister for Local Government. It was an arbitrary decision, made without any democratic reference to citizens’ opinions, or, some might say, Constitutional rights.
At the same time he reunited the two Ridings - North and South; amalgamated the two County Councils, abolished Clonmel Corporation, and transferred the local governance of the town to Tipperary County Council. He also reduced to six the number of councillors representing the town. These six now form Clonmel Borough Council, which meets once a month in the Town Hall in Clonmel. They do not have any powers as such. Their function seems to be the identification of issues and problems, decisions on which are now under the jurisdiction of the county council.
The reasons for this were, according to Mr Hogan, more efficient local governance at a reduced cost. Nevertheless, two very large complexes of offices and staff still remain, one in Nenagh and the other in Clonmel. Meetings of the council are held every other month in both towns. Unless one has access to computerised information, or has the time and interest to pursue public records, there is very little reportage on the decisions of the council and the engagement of the public interest, and what was once a feature for the citizens of Clonmel and their old Corporation, is very limited.
With the abolition of the Corporation, came the closure of the Town Hall, one of the most architecturally attractive buildings in Clonmel, once the symbol of local democracy, and now little used. And when this happened seven years ago we citizens did not raise our voices in protest. We did not challenge Mr Phil Hogan’s demolition of a historic institution which had well served the town, by and large, for several centuries. Having completed that demolition, he then left to take up a commissionership in Europe, from which he recently had to resign.
Clonmel has had some form of local government from early in the 14th century when it was declared headquarters of “caput, or the County Palatine” with a Sovereign (a Mayor in modern language). That institution was abolished by Oliver Cromwell when he suppressed it and substituted military rule. However it was restored again and came into some vestige of its modern form in 1695, although then accommodating the powers-that-be of the time. The real reform came in 1843 when the Catholic, John Hackett, was elected Mayor.
That Corporation, more democratic in its format, embarked on the task of modernising the town and subsequent local authorities worked on supplying a domestic supply of water, sewage facilities, paved streets. Local authorities then had more extensive powers than today. It is interesting to note that these powers were substantially reduced under our own Irish Government in the 1930s. Admittedly, and perhaps in the aftermath of the Civil War, some abuses had crept into the system.
Nevertheless, even with this reduction in power and autonomy, subsequent Corporations have performed very well in the town. Substantial social housing has been developed, suburbs extended and serviced, industrial development facilitated, and more. All of this has been achieved with powers far inferior to those enjoyed by local governments in our fellow EU neighbours.
Clonmel now urgently needs the services of a local Corporation, concentrating on the restoration of the town centre. We need work and encouragement in the development of “over shop” occupancy, and practical aid such as the reduction of rates in facilitating upgrading of premises. We need life, activity and the capacity to earn a living in the town centre and we urgently need committed, sensible, elected councillors to do this, in a forum - a Corporation - whose sole policy is the prosperity and proper functioning of the town. This is in contrast to the current incredible recommendation that this can be achieved by the re-alignment of footpaths and the removal of trees.
It seems to me that the Borough Council’s request for a referendum on the current status is unduly modest. We need to see the Council Chamber of the Town Hall occupied again by dedicated councillors whose sole objective is the maintenance and advancement of the town. And we, citizens, should be persistent in our demand to: “BRING BACK CLONMEL CORPORATION.”
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