Dublin needs both bigger and smaller government

SEEING as regime change seems to be all the rage it seems a good opportunity to have a regime change closer to home.

The present system of local government is just the wrong size. Having four local authorities means that Dublin misses out on the unity it needs to solve citywide problems like transport.

And just as bad, having four areas of 200,000 people upwards means that there is practically no interest in local politics.

The three new counties – Fingal, South Dublin and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown – have completely failed to form or reflect any local identity at all.

Identity is vital for any government to work, as public discourse centres around what we have in common. Identity in Dublin centres around two distinct localities. The city and county of Dublin on the one hand and local areas on the other.

Have you ever heard anyone say “I’m from Fingal” or “I’m from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown”. instead of “I’m from Blanchardstown” or “I’m from Dundrum”? I rest my case.

I note that Fine Gael have come up with the idea of a Dublin-wide authority. Other parties have other ideas but there is general acceptance that the present system is failing to engage the people.

The problem is that local government reorganisation is a gigantic task as all the services such as waste, housing, sewage, roads, etc has to be re-allocated to new authorities. The break-up of Dublin County Council and its complexities have dampened the appetite for reform.

But there is an easier way.

Simply leave the existing service providers intact and allow any new local authorities to buy services from them.

For example, let’s suppose a new local council is set up for Dundrum. The new Dundrum Council would be allocated a budget based on its population make-up. Then the council could buy its road sweeping or parks maintenance from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown which would now be just a service provider.

By way of competition, Dundrum Council could even buy their services from South Dublin or the City Council if they could get better value for money.

The critical point is that Dundrum would have its own budget so that a genuine local politics could emerge about how to spend it.

Equally a Dublin-wide council should be set up to run services like water and transport.

We need a debate about how Dublin is run and how best to run it. The present shambles where government ministers can intervene to take down road signs is just one sign of how bad things are.

The complete absence of local politics is another. It’s not just because people are not interested, it’s because the system of governing in Dublin is all wrong.