19 April 2001 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Proposed Dublin superauthority subverts democracy

Two weeks ago, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced plans to set up a 'Supra Regional Authority' to take over the powers of seven local authorities on planning of housing, land use and transport strategies. The new authority, to be called the ``Strategic Land Use and Transportation Body'', will have major powers to compel the four Dublin local authorities plus Kildare, Wicklow and Meath, to comply with its overall authority.

The announcement of this new supra regional authority came barely a week after the Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey, stripped democratically elected councilors of their power to control waste management, simply because local authorities across the country rejected his crazy plans to build incinerators, one per region, in the state.

The proposed authority is a mega-quango to subsume the powers of local councils, which will have enormous regulatory powers over 1.5 million people, nearly half the population of the state, with regard to the key issues of land use, housing and transport. It would have an annual budget of at least £1.5 billion of exchequer funding, plus its own funding through revenues generated by operation of a transport system.

The Authority is to be made up of some councillors from each local authority, county and city managers, social partners, and government nominees ``who have responsibility for policy and the adoption of integrated land use and transport strategy.'' The government plans legislation by this Autumn, with the intention of establishing the body by 2003.

Not only will this 'authority' subsume the powers of democratically elected councillors by creating a huge centralised and unwieldy body of between 30 and 50 people, on which a handful of elected councilors will be in a tiny minority, but the proposals outlined by the Taoiseach incorporate a radical takeover by the private commercial sector of traffic control, public transport companies and Garda traffic enforcement functions.

The body is to subsume the powers of the Dublin Transport Office and give private operators power to control and profit from detection of traffic violations. Enforcement of traffic violations, detected through camera systems, will be contracted out to private operators. This mirrors powers given to the private sector to impose astronomic parking fines and remove cars in Dublin City, powers that are accountable and answerable to no one.

These proposals represent a major move away from the declared government policy of decentralisation and of strengthening the role of local democracy. But less obviously, they have frightening implications for the privatisation of public and state bodies.

The crisis in housing and transport cannot be 'fixed', by abolishing democratic control, any more than the crisis in health care could be 'cured' by the replacement of the Eastern Health Board with the unwieldy, centralised and unaccountable bureaucracy of the Eastern Regional Health Authority

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1