The question was posed again in recent weeks on local radio about why tourism/heritage initiatives have failed to deliver services, and why it was necessary to set up Kerry County Council’s Forum on Tourism. It seems appropriate to address this question in the light of Tralee’s 800th Anniversary, the new Local Government Act, and the merger/abolition of some town councils.
1. Public representatives will have heard the rumblings of dissatisfaction from talented individuals and communities who felt frustrated in their efforts to participate in the tourism and heritage initiatives of recent years.
2. The range of heritage, arts, tourism and other offices, which have proliferated under the local authority since the 1980s, appeared an obstacle rather than a help.
3. Many of these appeared to be non-jobs, others quangos. It seemed none of the holders had experience of starting a business. Their expenses-driven life-styles affronted many.
4. Cross-directorships existed where they sat on each others’ boards. Many also sat on the committees of community groups and societies where their presence served to emasculate concerns about the usefulness of their offices.
5. No ‘one-stop shop’ was in place to receive submissions on tourist-related initiatives, and key officials and ceos failed to engage with talented individuals and communities in a manner that was sincere, continuous or effective.
6. No recognisable structures evolved to receive submissions, and there seemed no graded response to submissions. Submissions remained unacknowledged or their authors felt they were being given the run-around.
7. Quangos and status jobs were filled by locals, or local officials. A culture of entitlement was apparent, and of uncritical deference to existing vested interests, and existing practices and institutions.
8. Some officials were promoted despite failures in the past, including budgetary over-spend; questions arose about the degree of power officials exercised in their own promotions – and the degree of effort used to source better candidates.
9. Power was wielded autocratically, unrestrained by county and town managers. No outside supervision seemed to exist.
10. It was by no means clear that initiatives, whether from leading officials or from citizens, were vetted independently.
11. Leading officials seemed to promote their own initiatives – which then enjoyed the full support of Council resources, including the Council’s publicity machine.
12. Initiatives seemed to be adopted for their populist appeal, driven sometimes by celebrity, politics and commerce. Favourite eras of history and clichéd versions of Kerry’s identity were favoured, and the resulting initiatives proved insubstantial.
13. Officials presided at public forums and made a big impression on radio, but submissions from the public remained still-born as they depended on the patronage of the same officials.
14. Sections of the public were rewarded with Council largesse. This dampened dissent but it renewed concerns that proposals were not being addressed on their merits.
15. No citizen-centred society was discernible, only indications of monopoly practices and crony influence underneath the semblance of democratic structures.
16. County and town managers dismissed complaints. Appeals were frustrated as officials appeared to hold the pen of the county and town managers – in effect sitting as judges in their own case.
17. Elected representatives seemed powerless. If they pursued reforms they were compromised by the imperative of re-election, being particularly compromised in situations where officials could demonstrate a superior knowledge of day to day organisation.
Gerald O’Carroll, Tralee (The History Of Tralee, Its Charter And Governance, 2009)