Increased Council tax powers demand more democracy
Joe O’Brien promoting PB at public meeting in Skerries
While it didn’t happen this year I understand that the local property tax will go back to the Councils from where it is collected in future years. This is our money as taxpayers and now that we are paying this additional tax I believe we should have a greater say in terms of how it is spent in our locality. What is more, after May Fingal County Council will have the power to raise local property tax by 15%, this is a huge power for the Council to have and I believe this increased power should be counterbalanced by more power for the people. Participatory Budgeting can deliver this people power in an exciting and refreshing way – by allow citizens of a locality to decide on how a proportion of the Council budget is spent. To act as a counter balance to the Council’s power to raise property tax by 15% I believe a small percentage of the Council budget should be spent by Participatory Budgeting methods. This cannot be done immediately which is why I ask the Council to start plans to run small pilot PB projects across the county to inform and introduce people to the process.
Speaking at the meeting an expert in Participatory Budgeting (PB) from the UK, Davy Jones, explained that PB had taken off in the UK: Durham County Council in the UK has facilitated the participation of over 10,000 people in Participatory Budgeting events. Durham has recently held 13 PB events with on average £40,000 of public money been allocated by the public at each event, with an average attendance of 800 per meeting.
Mr. O’Brien followed on by saying that: the beauty of PB is that it engages people in their local community who would previously have not been very involved. This is why I think Fingal should take the lead on this nationally and be the first Council in Ireland to pilot Participatory Budgeting. We have a lot of new estates in the likes of Balbriggan, Lusk, Rush, Skerries and even in the smaller villages of Garristown, the Naul and Ballyboughal where some people have yet to fully engage with the wider community. PB could be one way to build even stronger and wider community spirit in these communities.
For more information contact: Joe O’Brien at 087-9608540 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Green Party representative for Skerries, Balbriggan, Lusk, Rush and Rural Fingal has vowed to prioritise the development of a cycleway from Sutton to Balbriggan if elected to Fingal County Council this summer. Joe O’Brien stated that:
Looking at the big picture, a cycleway from Sutton to Balbriggan has the capacity to not just revolutionise cycling in Fingal but the tourist industry in Fingal. All the way up the coast we have unparalleled tourist attractions within a short distance – Portmarnock Beach, Malahide Castle, Broadmeadow Estuary, Newbridge Demense, Rogerstown Estuary, Rush, Loughshinney, Skerries, Ardgillan Demense and Balbriggan. The Great Western Greenway in Mayo is certainly an amazing trail but I believe the Fingal Coastal Way has the potential to be a much richer and more diverse tourist package particularly with all the heritage along the way. Its proximity to Dublin city is of course its other great asset – Dublin being the location where the vast majority of our tourists arrive and we have a huge advantage in having Dublin Airport located in Fingal. Also, cyclicng tourists can access various point of the Way by rail – making it even more attractive.
Mr. O’Brien’s comments come after the announcement of the consultation process by Fingal County Council on the Broadmeadow Way which will see Malahide and Donabate connected by a pedestrian/cycle track. He stated that:
The Broadmeadow Way is one of the key pieces in the jigsaw and if the Fingal Coastal Way finally comes to fruition it will provide a very significant and sustainable economic and employment boost to all of Fingal and beyond. I will pull out all the stops to ensure that adequate funding is sourced to make the Fingal Coastal Way a reality. The next big challenge to the development of the route is the crossing of Rogerstown Estuary. The National Transport Authority have suggested a floating pontoon bridge to facilitate this and this could well be the way forward – but there are a lot of practical difficulties to overcome that I will put my mind to.
Of course the benefits for Fingal are not just in terms of tourism, there are also vital opportunities to develop commuter and school cycling not to mention the health benefits of getting more people on their bikes. Evidence from other successful councils has shown us though that we need a focal point in the Council to push cycling development – Fingal County Council need to appoint a Cycling Officer immediately in accordance with government policy, to make sure that these opportunities are maximised for all the people of Fingal in a professional and committed manner.
Details of the consultation process are at this link:
Following the recent spate of storms and damaging weather across Fingal local Green Party Rep Joe O’Brien has warned that Council budgets and funding for many local services will be badly hit if there is not sea change in political actions nationally and locally:
We will be known as the most irresponsible and short-sighted generation in history if there is not a fundamental change in political attitudes towards climate change urgently. Unfortunately most politics works in a knee jerk fashion and the gradual but accelerating nature of climate change has meant that most political leaders have chosen to ignore it. Having a Minister for the Environment who cannot bring himself to admit the need to act dramatically on climate change is akin to having a Minister for Health saying that the health service is all in order. But there is a lot of local responsibility aswell and I do believe that because local authorities nationally will be footing the bills for storm and flood damage is it at local level that leadership needs to be shown. However I think local government across Ireland and in Fingal has failed the people by adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to climate change. It is frankly the height of irresponsibility.
I am sad to say that as the years progress I am becoming increasingly worried that my hometown of Skerries will be particularly badly hit by climate change. The recent damage done to the foundations of footpaths all along the South Strand has been quite extensive and dangerous. And this is all not long after the sea wall on the road to Balbriggan was repaired at significant cost. Not to mention of course the flood damage done to houses along the South Strand. The three main roads into Skerries have all shown themselves to be prone to serious flooding in recent years, businesses have been adversely affected and indeed Red Island which is in many ways the hub of Skerries social and leisure life is at long term risk of being disconnected from the mainland.
The major floods of November 2009 represented the largest insured loss ever in Ireland at €244 million at the time and the science has been telling us for some time now that we can expect more events like this. I have little doubt that the recent damage way surpasses this figure.
It was back in January 2013 that I wrote to the County Manager suggesting that the Council should be keeping account of weather related expenses that the Council is incurring such as flood prevention works and repairs to infrastructure after storms and flooding. I was frankly baffled to be fobbed off on such a basic and sensible suggestion. I have little doubt that such expenses have been rising yet there seems to be no interest in forward planning for what will be the biggest challenge to our communities and our lifestyles in the years to come across Fingal. Dramatically reducing our carbon emissions is the only way forward.
Repair work ongoing on the sea wall on the Balbriggan Road in Skerries – October 2013
Recent damage at the South Strand in Skerries – Jan and February 2014
Skerries Feb 2014
Skerries1 Feb 2014
Public meeting Wednesday February 5th
Your money. You decide!
Making local government more democratic
At 8pm on Wednesday February 5th I will host a public meeting on a unique and innovative form of community decision making called Participatory Budgeting (PB). PB allows citizens to make the decisions on how public money from local government is spent. An experienced PB practitioner from the UK will present at the meeting.
Participatory Budgeting is something new and fresh with genuine capacity for change. It has potential to transform the relationship between communities and local government and most importantly it can facilitate better decisions. I believe that there is a great need to include communities more in the decisions made at local government level along with a need for a higher level of transparency. PB can make significant improvements in both these areas and this meeting is about introducing the idea of PB and getting feedback from people. I have also been urging Fingal County Council to seriously consider implementing Participatory Budgeting in Fingal.
The venue for the meeting is Skerries Educate Together National School. 8pm Wednesday February 5th.
Participatory Budgeting is used all over the world to increase community empowerment and participation but also transparency and trust in local government. Currently the Constitutional Convention which is held in Malahide uses similar democratic methods in the review of the Irish constitution where citizens are making decisions.
Durham County Council in the UK has facilitated the participation of over 10,000 people in Participatory Budgeting events. Durham has recently held 13 PB events with on average £40,000 of public money been allocated by the public at each event.
PB is even more developed in other countries. In Porto Alegre (population 1.5 million ) in Brazil $200 million is subject to PB on an annual basis.
The meeting may be of particular interest to people involved in various types of voluntary and community groups as it has been used to build civic participation in communities. Importantly PB has been specifically mentioned in the current reform plan for local government in Ireland as a method of democracy that should be explored.
For more info on how PB is practiced in the UK see this link:
Politics in Ireland is dominated by a particular profile of person – white Irish settled middle aged males. But of course this is not the profile of society at large. Building on the success and example of the Opening Power to Diversity scheme in Leinster House and with a view to making politics more representative of society at large I am proposing the establishment of a Councillor Intern scheme with a view to opening up politics and in the long term making it more representative of society. There will be special emphasis on creating opportunities for women and ethnic minorities. The scheme will be open to those living in Fingal in the 18-30 age bracket. A minimum of 50 % of the interns placed under the scheme would also be required to be female.
The interns would work beside the Councillor for 1-2 days per week for a six month period. Interns would contribute to the work of the Councillor at a policy level but also accompany and observe the Councillor in his/her representative role at the community level, allowing them to experience all sides of politics. This would provide the intern with a unique learning experience of front line politics that they can bring with them on whatever career path they choose. The goal is also that the person will add their own knowledge and experience to the work carried out by the Councillor. It is hoped that in the long term at least some participants on the scheme will consider running for local office themselves in the future, although the learning from the internship would be of use in a wide variety of fields. The days the intern would work would be negotiable between the Councillor and intern.
I will work to get backing from Fingal County Council for this idea. The support and endorsement of other organisations and political parties will also be sought. I met the young people of Fingal Comhairle na nÓg late last year and got some positive feedback on the then draft proposal.
I am also inviting ideas, thoughts and submissions on this proposal. Please contact me at email@example.com
I am a regular attender of the Balbriggan Community Policing Forum and was at the most recent meeting on December 2nd. As always it struck me during and after the meeting what crucial and useful forum they are. These are open public meetings where anyone can question the most senior local Gardai and Council officials on issues of concern.
They are one of the few truly transparent and democratic methods of keeping the Council and the Gardai accountable. Of course both the Council and the Gardai also get great value from the meetings as it allows them to get directly in touch with the public in a way that is not usually possible. There are always very frank and open discussions at the forum and I don’t think anyone leaves these forums without learning something. In particular they offer reassurance to the public that there is ongoing co-operative efforts by the Gardai and Council to tackle issues of public concern such as anti-social behaviour.
Joe O’Brien at the Balbriggan Community Policing Forum
These forums offer an invaluable resource to the communities they serve. The decision to cut the forums betrays an absolute lack of understanding of their value to people. This is a shutting down of the people’s voice and a blow to true local democracy and accountability. This decision has also made it clear that the government’s plans for local government reform are solely about cost saving. All the talk in ‘Putting People First’ – the reform plan for local government, is just that, talk. Here we have a model example of community-government engagement at local level and rather than replicate it for different areas or different issues it is being abolished.
I am vehemently opposed to this move. I want to promote more models of community-government engagement in order to make local government more transparent and accountable.
The Green Party representative for Swords, Ken Duffy stated that
At a time when certain types of crimes are on the increase and Garda resources are stretched to their limits, it is unbelievable and utter madness to scrap the Swords and Balbriggan Community Policing Forums. The forums have always been an arena for people to express their fears and concerns directly to those working on the coalface. This news will come as a shock to people and would be one more nail in the coffin of local democracy.
at 087-9608540 and Ken Duffy at 086-6008313