Local Government Minister John Paul Phelan, must move rapidly to clarify the future of towns across Laois-Offaly under his proposals for reform RENUA Ireland leader, Cllr John Leahy has insisted.

Cllr Leahy said: “The current vague proposals to re-establish 28 new urban borough councils are not clear about the future of key towns such as Portlaoise, Mountmellick, Tullamore, Birr and Edenderry, not to mention that the large town of Portarlington is completely left in limbo.

This, following on from the virtual omission of the constituency from Project Ireland 2040 and the significant reduction of Laois and Offaly county councillors is the third strike against the constituency by a Fine Gael led government.

The Minister should note that RENUA Ireland believes in a policy of ‘three strikes and you are out’.

We do not know what Minister John Paul Phelan has against Laois-Offaly or whether Fine Gael knows if some of these towns exist but this policy of less than benign neglect, which includes the weird loss of Portarlington to the constituency of Kildare, must cease.

Laois-Offaly deserves a fair deal in local government and a reversal of the loss of its town councils and nine county councillors in the previous Phil Hogan hatchet job.

Cllr Leahy also warned that, “Should he discover Laois-Offaly, Minister John Paul Phelan must give his new town councils real powers in planning or they run the risk of turning into sham councils and talking shops.

I do welcome the Minister’s decision to restore the former town council with 28 new town districts, but where do Tullamore and Portlaoise feature here, the latter the largest urban centre in the midlands?” demanded Cllr Leahy.

“The Minister’s inability to go the whole way by providing the new town councils with full planning powers sets much of his good work at naught.

It is utterly illogical to provide these new town councils with funding for roads and the capacity to plan for town development but to refuse full planning powers is like sending a man off to build a house without any bricks.

The Minister would be wise to slip the snares set by Custom House bureaucrats and go the whole way.

That said RENUA Ireland welcomes his progressive stance on local government and his wise decision to reverse the utterly regressive decision by Phil Hogan to abolish town councils, before he fled to Europe.

There is no better example of the economics of penny wise, pound foolish.

RENUA Ireland believes government is always more efficient if it is closely monitored by those closest to it, local citizens.”

Cllr Leahy also noted:

“The much-needed return of these democratic bodies will not be worth a penny candle unless accompanied by real powers.

The new councils need real independence, not some Custom House led variant of Home Rule.

If these new councils are merely given tasks more appropriate to a talking shop this will only serve to bring local government into further disrepute.

Under the Minister’s current proposals local town districts will not have the power to adjudicate on the frontage of the local town shop. This is a recipe for futility.”

Mr Leahy also called on the Minister to examine the governance and representation of smaller towns and villages as the previous local government carve-up by his predecessor Phil Hogan mitigated against rural areas and communities of declining population in the creation of sprawling electoral areas, in some instance larger than general election constituencies.

“Villages and small towns are the neglected children of planning and local government. Their Cinderella status must end. In this regard the Minister and government must also clarify their plans for the regeneration for small Laois-Offaly towns and villages.

Many of these are areas of great scenic beauty and are national tourist attractions in their own right.

In looking at where we want to be in thirty-years’ time we must protect their authentic communal identity and viability.

We must ensure that throughout Ireland the phenomenon of urban sprawl is avoided, and that growth is sensitive to maintaining the identity of small adjoining villages. Stop gap, short-term schemes that have to be reversed down the road are not the sustainable way forward.”