October 1, 2023

‘Time to put real power back in the hands of our local authority’ – councillor

KILKENNY County Council and other local authorities must be given far greater powers in order to tackle the deepening housing crisis and to take a lead on climate action.

That’s according to Kilkenny city councillor Malcolm Noonan, who claimed that the abolition of town and Borough councils has been “an abject failure”.

Cllr Noonan, who is also the Green Party spokesperson on local government, told KilkennyNow.ie: “Kilkenny is testament to this where local city autonomy has been removed. Ours is a clientelist system of local government, it is neither participative nor inclusive which has led to the disenfranchising of people and the demoralisation of elected representatives.”

Speaking after the regional launch of a joint trade union campaign to strengthen local democracy, Cllr Noonan said Ireland currently has the lowest level of local autonomy in the EU.

Endorsing the joint SIPTU, Connect Trade Union and Fórsa ‘More Power to You’ campaign, Cllr Noonan said the five key elements of the campaign; increasing participative democracy, a massive national programme of social housing provision, a referendum on public ownership of water, re-municipalisation of waste and recycling services and enabling local authorities to lead on climate and energy, could transform the role and responsibilities of local councils and devolve power back to local community level.

Clllr Noonan said it is time to waken the “sleeping giant” of local government, which he said could do “so much more if given the freedom and resources to do so”.

He added: “Local Government in Ireland is not fit for purpose to meet current and future challenges and is in need of radical reform and expansion of powers.”

Cllr Noonan also said the homeless and housing crises can only be resolved through a major increase in the construction of “high quality, social and affordable ecological housing”.

He added: “Cost rental models of private sector housing should form part of the solution but this will mean scrapping reliance on HAP. We also need local authorities to lead a significant apprenticeship programme like they did in the past to make up the skills deficit in the construction sector. This should include the use of direct labour to address voids and a deep retrofit programme to tackle fuel poverty and climate change.”

Cllr Noonan said local authorities do not have sufficient powers, structures or resources to tackle or lead on climate change mitigation.

“We are in the depths of a climate and biodiversity emergency, yet current structures in local government are not equipped to lead a collaborative response. We support the call by the three unions to allow local authorities to set up energy supply and management companies and to establish climate action committees involving all sectors,” he said.

Cllr Noonan also said he believes the Government’s controversial plans for directly elected Mayors could be “a positive force for change”, but added he fears “no meaningful reform will ever take place for decades” if the plebiscites in Cork, Limerick and Waterford fail.

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