National secretary Peter Nolan responds to Minister Alan Kelly TD at union’s Local Government division conference in Galway
The Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government Alan Kelly TD, has made a commitment to engage in discussions with IMPACT on a number of issues including library amalgamation proposals, the future of fire services, social housing and sick leave anomalies in the local government sector. i
On social housing the minister said that previous policies were wrong, and the state now had “a big void to fill.” He added “I believe the privatisation of housing over the last fifteen years has contributed to these issues.Local authorities over the last fifteen years simply should have been building houses, like they always did. We need to get back to that.”
National secretary Peter Nolan welcomed the Minister’s comments and said that the importance of focusing on social housing issues – particularly on the privatisation of social housing – could not be overstated. “IMPACT will stand cheek by jowl with the Minister in this work, he has our full support on this issue,” he said.
“This union has always put housing on the top of our agenda. While we understand the role of the voluntary sector, we simply do not believe that you can tackle the needs of the 100,000 people on the housing list, without the direct role of local authorities. We welcome your acknowledgement of this and look forward to working with you on the most fundamental challenge facing Irish society as we look beyond the economic crisis.
Peter explained to the minister that IMPACT’s Local Government and Local Services division last year opposed what he described as “a pattern of stripping services away from local government.” Peter added, “We have opposed the abandoning of driver licensing and higher education grants. Together with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, we believed that local authorities should have retained control of water services.
“Last year this union pledged its support for a referendum on marriage equality and have played a significant part in the debate. Minister, the next referendum that we want to see is one that gives a constitutional guarantee that Irish Water will remain under public control. A referendum that would give constitutional protection to ensure Irish water services are not privatised,” he said.
Peter added that IMPACT has engaged constructively with the the departmentand local authority management on shared services. “Proposals to amalgamate 14 library authorities, 13 fire authorities and the local authority veterinary service are not shared services. They are universally opposed by local committees, political representatives of all parties and of none. When challenged, employers cannot point to any model of economic savings.
“Where the arguments for shared services stack up, we have engaged. The current proposals are a retrograde step and we would welcome an early opportunity to meet with you to set out our concerns on this and the range of challenges that face local government in Ireland today” he said.
Peter also said that the abolition of 80 town councils throughout the country had unquestionably reduced their capacity to be engines of economic and social growth.