This doesn't mean we have decided to hang our hats up, we aren't giving up on political change. Rather it is because we are committed to political change that we are refusing to partake in the local elections, for the elections have very little to do with political power.
In Ireland, local authorities have very little to do with running the city. Our cities are run by city managers. Council committees do not make executive decisions, but, instead, tend to give advice to the manager and acquaint themselves with the manager's decisions and actions. However as an article on local government reports 'the council has hardly any information channels of its own, and depends heavily on the information it receives from the manager' .
If the local authorities decide to act against the wishes of the manager, he (or she) can get the Minister of the Environment to dissolve them. Local authorities have no right to dismiss the manager if they are unhappy with the decisions that he or she is making. When it was announced recently that political posters would be removed from public places, the citizens of Dublin had no way of overturning the decision. It is not surprising therefore that the Dublin City Council in a cynical move appears to put issues of public cleanliness over issues of public democracy.
Furthermore many important decisions about the running of our cities are made either by central government or by un-elected quangos. Fianna Fail appoints the board of Temple Bar, so although it is an area in the centre of the capital, the citizens of that capital have practically no input into what is done with the space.
The one area in which the power of local councilors has been evident is in the allocation of planning permission. As has been seen in the planning tribunals, it's also an area that stinks with corruption. The interests of developers appear to be what drives planning permissions. Housing estates are built with no public transport connections, no shops or public services. Shopping centers are built outside the city and are inaccessible to those of us with out a car. The city is shaped to serve commercial interests and the people who have to live, work, shop and socialise have no way of challenging this development. Through public inquires we can ask what happened, but we can't change the decisions that have been made.
In Ireland we have local government, government by local civil servants, but no local democracy.
It could be different. At the moment we elect local councilors to positions where they have little power, what power they have they are free to use in what ever way they like. If they lie to us, we have no way of re-calling them from their office. This type of democracy (known as representative democracy) is open to abuse. For example, during the bin tax campaigns when on the doorsteps the politicians promised to fight the charges, but when in the council chamber voted to re-install them.
We believe in another type of democracy, direct democracy. This is where local assemblies meet to discuss and decide on issues that affect them. On issues of common concern to the wider community, these assemblies first discuss and come to a position of their own. Then they can federate with other areas by choosing delegates whose role is to co-ordinate with other delegates from other communities. At local city or county meetings delegates carry the wishes of their communities on the particular topic under discussion (whether that be traffic management, the building of playgrounds or organising waste collection). If they fail to carry out the wishes of the communities, the community has the power to replace them immediately. If the is-sues are unresolved the delegates can go back to the local assemblies for further consideration and the process repeated until a suitable solution reached.
by Aoife Fisher
This edition is No81 published in May 2004