Sinn Féin is making a difference
In his address to last month's meeting of councillors in Tralee, 26-County Environment Minister Noel Dempsey said that changes in local government mean councillors have the powers to effect real change in their areas. It's up to them to use them - to take them and run with them.
He may yet regret his empowering urgings. Despite a phone call from Dempsey to every member of Galway Corporation prior to the vote on government waste management proposals, councillors voted unanimously against railroading incineration through the regions.
A 22,000-signature petition, the broad campaign to let people know the issues, and a public meeting in the city must have played a part in councillors making up their minds.
Many councillors hold the view that they've no power but others argue that the only thing limiting local authorities is an absence of will.
d this brings us to the question of whether Sinn Féin councillors elected last year to local authorities across the 26 Counties, none of whom is in a majority position, have been able to effect change or make a difference to their area.
Michael Bell of the Labour Party articulated the fear that the campaign in Drogheda over waste charges and the privatisation of waste collection might lead to Sinn Féin stealing a march on other councillors in the county. Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan, in a minority of one on Louth County Council, won support to defer and consult with the public on the issue.
Earlier this year in Drogheda, a mass meeting of over 1,000 people lambasted their city councillors for failing to consult with people over the plan.
On Monaghan County Council, Sinn Féin councillors were able to ensure that the government intention to introduce incineration was denied. They also promoted a policy of waste management prioritising recycling, re-use and reduce, which Sinn Féin has consistently proposed.
It could be asked, of course, what is waste management anyway? Is it that important what is done with the trash? But it raises many fundamental issues. These include community involvement in the control of their environment; the retention of our green edge in food exports, the PD/Fianna Fáil agenda of public private partnerships, and equality in society.
First and foremost, however, waste management raises the very question of democracy in Ireland today. It asks whether or not local authorities want to consult with people on policy and use their power to implement what people want.
Isn't that what the minister himself was urging in Tralee?