Opportunity to restore borough council is there — if the will is
Three years on from the abolition of Kilkenny Borough Council, there seems to be a good deal of agreement — among current and former councillors at least — on whether or not it was a good idea.
The answer, as many had suggested it might be back in 2014, appears to be ‘no’.
Fianna Fail, Labour, and the Green Party are all on the record at this stage calling for the reinstatement of borough councils. Meanwhile, local Fine Gael party whip and a councillor here for more than four decades Mary Hilda Cavanagh recently described its abolition as ‘a bad idea’.
It seems there is a large body of agreement with regard to bringing back town councils, or in any case, discussing the idea.
The logic is that the city deserves its own municipal authority to look after its own interests, and that the budget for the city has since all but collapsed. The office of the Mayor of Kilkenny has been in some way downgraded, playing second fiddle to that of the Cathaoirleach in both its function and the pageantry.
In March, Cllr David Fitzgerald lamented what he described as a ‘smash and grab’ of city funds by rural councillors, when the majority of the City Municipal District budget was allocated to rural roads and projects.
Now he is in the Cathaoirleach’s chair. As a former mayor and borough councillor, he will have a unique insight on the changes that have taken place in the past three years, and is in a good position to keep the issue on the agenda.
Last year, the local Fianna Fail/Fine Gael pact survived a wobble on the night of the mayoral election. The pact – and the current council – is now past the halfway point of its term of office.
It’s now Fine Gael’s turn in the spotlight, with council positions of chairman, vice chairman, and mayor all held by the party’s councillors – as well as the chairs of both north and south municipal districts.
Fortuitously, local TD John Paul Phelan was recently announced as Minister of State with special responsibility for Local Government and Electoral Reform.
It would be fitting to explore the idea of the borough council’s restoration here and now, given it was abolished during the tenure of then-minister Phil Hogan, in his own backyard.
At his election as the new Mayor of Kilkenny, Michael Doyle directly appealed to the new Minister for State to reinstate the borough council, and to introduce a directly elected mayor.
There’s no way of knowing how long this current Government will last, so perhaps the time is just right to work closely with Deputy Phelan to push the issue forward.
On a similar topic, the wondeful Tholsel building on High Street has remained on as a council chamber for the Kilkenny City Municipal District, but many of the staff and administration have since been moved to County Hall.
A suggestion that the building would become a public toilet for the nearby Medieval Mile Museum was nipped in the bud last July, but the idea that it might undergo a change of use to a tourist office was raised again last month by Cllr Joe Malone ( who previously said he would rather it be a soup kitchen than a tourist office).
There has been no official announcement as regards plans for the building, but no doubt the powers that be will do their best to safeguard its function and future.