Late last year, Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister Phil Hogan launched ‘Putting People First’ describing it as “one of the most radical, ambitious and far-reaching governance reform plans ever put forward by an Irish Government.”
Minister Hogan said: “The reforms put a strong emphasis on accountability as the bedrock of a properly functioning system of local democracy, providing for better engagement with citizens.
“I am committed to building stronger, more cohesive local government, giving it a greater capacity not only to address the challenges we face, but also to promote local community, social and economic development, and collectively to maximise the strengths of our country as a place in which to live, to invest and to work.
“At a critical time for our country, local government has a crucial role to play in ireland’s national recovery. The action programme empowers local government in an entirely new way, particularly in relation to economic development, and most importantly, sustaining and creating jobs.
“This programme affirms the need for the system to embrace change, share the burden, modernise, adapt to new financial circumstances and deliver even better services with scarce resources,” he said.
Extracts from ‘A Guide to Putting People First’:
§ The emphasis in this action programme is to enable local government to deliver more to the community it serves. between local government, local representatives and the communities they serve.
§ Local government will lead economic, social and community development locally. It will be the main vehicle of governance and public service at local level, deliver efficient and good value services, and represent citizens and communities, as effectively and accountably as possible.
§ The objective of Putting People First is to ensure that local government is better placed to enhance the wellbeing and quality of life of citizens and local communities, while delivering maximum value for money.
§ Decisions will be made as close to the people they affect as possible.
§ More power will be devolved to local level, closest to the people. Elected members will perform a substantial range of “reserved” functions at municipal district level. (A number of functions are legally “reserved” for elected councillors. The remaining functions are the city/county manager’s responsibility).
§ There is an unprecedented appetite for change and specifically for improved service to and contact with, the customer.
§ While the reform programme will yield significant savings on full implementation of up to €420 million perhaps, of even greater significance are the non-financial benefits that will accrue in the form of more effective service delivery, better quality local representation and closer engagement between communities and authorities. This will represent the long-term success of the reforms envisaged in Putting People First.
Mechanisms to promote citizen engagement with local government will be considered including participative democracy arrangements. (The new Municipal District Councils may become the incubators for tentative experiments in participatory democracy at local government level).