Editor, The Kerryman,
The merger of town and county councils filled many column inches before the recent local and European elections, and much was written about the loss of local control and the dangers of excessive centralisation. The forecasts may or may not be justified, but the public would take them more seriously if it could see signs that the culture of politics itself was changing: if, for example, elected representatives could be recalled between elections, as they can be in the US, if individuals could be held responsible for decisions made, and if resignation after wrong doing was more common than it is at present.
Local representatives have been warning us about the dangers of power centralised in Dublin, but we have seen a growth of ‘top down’ decision making by offices under local government. Then we have the growth of powerful vested interests in Kerry, including some of the semi-states and sport, about whose anti-communitarian influence there is far too little discussion in the anti-intellectual and politically-correct environment of today. Again, the focus on Dublin is a distraction, and I believe the old republicans of Kerry would turn in their graves if they saw the expenses and other perks now enjoyed by people who front meetings in our county towns and present so well in the local media.
Kerry has become an unequal and undemocratic society over the last thirty or forty years. A new elite has appeared, a big-salaried and powerful elite comprising representatives of tourism, the semi-states – and even local government. We are regaled with notions of community but there is little real evidence of ‘bottom up’ decision making, and no shortage of practices that strike at the very root of community: buck passing, arbitrary decision making and good old-fashioned bureaucratic obstruction. The time has come for an independent reassessment of the offices and quangos which have proliferated under county councils since the 1980s amid widespread anecdotal concern about what appears a lack of any independent audit in their operations.
Communities are often their own worst enemies, and I have seen no appetite for radical dissent among them. Too many times I have seen communities pursue their own agendas, content to accept ‘how things are done’ and all too willing to resort to local politicians, or lobby the monopoly interests, in order to bring ideas to fruition. Is it any wonder that the mandarins in the corridors of power are so adept at playing communities off against each other?
Time will tell if Professor Kevin Rafter’s report, from the Independent Panel on Strengthening Civil Service Accountability and Performance, will have any bearing on the conduct of local government in Kerry. The Independent Panel recommended a board to oversee the civil service comprising people of significant stature, with ouside experience of presiding over large organisations, whose aim will be to put in place values such as impartiality, honesty and ‘the confidence to speak truth to power’ (Rafter article, The Irish Times 13/6/2014).
Personally, I am pessimistic about the chances of the new county Manager being able to implement any effective reform, beyond cosmetic measures here and there. The chain of office was handed back recently by the last Mayor of Tralee, and there was some wistful recall of the 400 years of local government since the town’s Charter of 1613. In reality, one elite departs and another elite enters stage left. I have seen no evidence at public meetings that Kerry people wish to become citizens of a functioning democracy; and I predict that the new county Manager will be kidnapped, as soon as she sets foot in her office, by all the old crony operators and the major cartels that have long since bleached the democratic spirit out of Kerry.
Sincerely, Gerald O’Carroll, The History of Tralee, Its Charter and Governance (2009)