Cllr Mark Casey (Ind)
The future relevance and influence councillors have on their local areas has been thrown into doubt in light of fresh claims elected members have no power to alter or amend county development plans.
The revelations were disclosed after local authority chiefs sought legal advice to proceed with modifying Longford’s future development regulations which would effectively stamp out the construction of commercial wind turbines across the county.
Those attempts were made on foot of a unanimous decision by local councillors to extend the distance in which turbines can be built from residential homes.
That call, made in direct opposition to a planned Bord na Móna wind farm in south Longford, sought to ensure any future turbines erected in the county must be at least ten times the tip height from private dwellings.
However, several councillors registered their unease at how resulting legal advice indicated that councillors were immune from interfering with the future charting of Longford’s County Development Plan.
“If councillors do not have a reserved function in that area then what is the point of councillors voting on a County Development Plan we cannot amend,” said Cllr Casey.
The Lanesboro non party representative added he intended forwarding the advice received to fellow Independent Senator Gerald Craughwell.
Cllr Casey, though, was at pains to illustrate the potential ramifications facing councillors not just in Longford but nationwide, should the Council executive’s legal guidance prove correct.
“I think this is a huge, huge issue,” he remarked.
“It goes further than Longford and it could affect every councillor in the country.
“We (councillors) should have the right to protect Longford from anything we deem unfit for this county,” he said.
Cllr Mae Sexton said she was not convinced by the correspondence sent back from the council's legal advisor and called for a second opinion to be given.
She followed that up by asking for local representative bodies, the Association of Local Government (AILG) and the Local Authorities Members Association (LAMA) to be fully briefed on the issue.
Cllr Sexton was not alone in voicing her disquiet.
Both Councillors Gerry Warnock and Seamus Butler said the topic threw serious question marks on the purpose of locally elected politicians.
“Sitting here you sometimes wonder why we (councillors) are here,” said an evidently bewildered Cllr Butler.
Others were not so supportive of inviting a second legal expert to cast their eye on the debate.
Cllr Colm Murray said while it was “disconcerting” to learn of the implied restrictions facing councillors in making amendments to development plans, he said the advice provided “looked solid”.
His party colleagues John Duffy and John Browne provided further weight to those claims.
The latter was typically direct in stating forking out large sums for further legal direction would only serve as a “complete waste of the Council's time and money”.
Chief executive Paddy Mahon said he had no difficulty in bowing to the members requests for a second opinion to be given.
In the meantime, Cllr Mark Casey vowed to draw up a motion on behalf of his fellow colleagues, the details of which are expected to be debated by both the AILG and LAMA over the coming weeks.
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