Is this the end of local government in Dublin?
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
Local government in Dublin City now hangs in the balance after a marathon ten-hour meeting of Dublin City Councillors on Sunday night failed to reach agreement on the Book of Estimates.
The meeting, which went on until 12 midnight on Sunday, was one of a series held to agree the estimates for Dublin Corporation and save the council from dissolution. According to local government law, if estimates are not agreed by the prescibed date (which in this case was last Sunday), the council can be dissolved at the behest of the 26-County Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Noel Dempsey.
As some councillors, including the four Sinn Féin members, had taken a stance against the introduction of double-taxation bin charges, disagreement emerged over how to cover the costs of waste management in the city. This disagreement has not been resolved.
Sinn Féin has said that if Dublin City Council is dissolved by the minister, because it refused to pass the 2001 Estimates while it included bin charges, ``it will make a joke of local democracy''.
The Sinn Féin group leader on Dublin City Council, Christy Burke, said that the party's councillors would have been prepared to accept a once-off £45 cover charge for the cost of a bin but opposed the concept of a bin service charge ``because it would have accepted the idea in principle, of opening the door to price increases and privatisation in the future.
``Noel Dempsey is the Minister of the Environment and Local Government. Will he rubbish local democracy by abolishing a local authority because councillors kept their promises to voters, instead of doing what the Minister ordered?
``As councillors elected by the people of Dublin, we refused to be bullied by the Fianna Fáil minister into reneging on our opposition to the double tax through bin charges. And when we don't vote the way the Minister wants us to he, with the backing of Fianna Fáil, threatens to pull the plug on local democracy by dissolving the democratically-elected Dublin City Council.''
Dissolution, Burke says, will mean the `rubbishing' of Dublin people's democratic rights. ``And all because Fianna Fáil are prepared to introduce a system of double taxation that will place an even bigger financial burden on the under-paid, over-taxed people of this city. In a city where many people can't even afford basic accommodation, it would be an act of betrayal for their representatives to ask them to pay hefty bin collection charges as well,'' says Burke.
``Is it any wonder people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with politics and are not bothering to use their vote, when government ministers reject local democracy because it won't dance to their tune?''
Legally, the Minister for the Environment now has the right to dissolve the council, after the City Manager rejected all alternative figures for generating revenue out of hand. He also has the legal right to ignore the protestations of the people of Dublin and push through bin charges without the necessity for any locally accountable democratic process whatsoever.