“Sit there in the corner, keep your mouths shut and do what you’re told.” This in a nutshell is how the Town Manager of Cobh Local Authority, Mary O’Halloran, dealt with our so-called public representatives at the annual estimates meeting of Cobh Council.
Ms. O’Halloran was delivering a diktat from Central Government that Service Charges would be set at 400 next year and no citizen or local politician would be allowed to question this autocratic tax imposition.
In effect, Central Government is dismantling local democracy. It is saying to the people of Cobh and many other communities – “Your opinion does not matter; the opinion of your local representatives does not matter. What matters is that we, the bureaucratic, unaccountable, centralised power demands an unquestioned right to plunder the financial resources of local communities. To make that convenient for us it will be necessary to terminate the bothersome concept of local democracy”.
There are two reasons why Central Government believes that it can get away with acting in this dictatorial fashion. Firstly, the system of Local Government is rotten to the core. Over the decades, the main political parties have, through self-serving agreements, turned council chambers into comfortable clubs for party activists. Serving the local community is almost always a secondary consideration. They have, in effect, become puppets of Central Government. Central Government knows that, apart from the occasional principled (but always ineffective) stand taken by genuine councillors, it has nothing to fear from local politicians.
Secondly, the Irish people themselves have become almost totally apathetic. Battered by decades of revelations of sleaze, corruption and incompetence, most Irish citizens have lost faith in their democratic system. They either don’t care and therefore don’t get involved, or have concluded that all democracies operate in this manner and therefore it must be the norm. Nothing could be further from the truth. The manner in which the Irish body politic operates is, to a great extent, abnormal when compared to other Western democracies. For example, when corruption is discovered in these democracies it is acted on immediately- the police and courts are involved from the very start, people actually go to jail if found guilty. In other words, justice is seen to be done. In Ireland, corruption is sidelined into never-ending tribunals where millionaires are created in the legal profession and the politicians can hide from being made accountable.
In 1776, the thirteen British colonies in North America challenged the right of the British Parliament to arbitrarily impose taxation without representation. Their successful challenge resulted in the creation of the greatest democracy of modern times. By abolishing local democracy and imposing punitive taxes on local communities, this Irish Government is doing exactly what the then British Government did to her colonies. I believe that no Irish Government has the right, either legally, constitutionally or morally, to remove local democracy from the people.
The citizens of Cobh and local communities throughout Ireland should challenge this threat to their democratic birthright by adopting the rallying cry of the American colonies – ‘No taxation without representation’