Letter: Irish councils that worked

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The Independent Online
EDWARD Pearce's proposals for "real local government" in Northern Ireland struck resonant chords in me. My father was the longest-serving member of our Londonderry County Council at its dissolution in 1973. The county council worked effectively and efficiently - it has been observed about its education administration: "What the county council ran out of a terraced house in New Row, Coleraine, now requires an entire floor of County Hall, Ballymena." The same efficiency applied in all departments, and not just in Co Londonderry.

The success of the county councils was due most notably to their being run, not by politicians, but by people with a goal primarily of being of public service, be they the council's servants or the council's members. They were also run on consensual principles - there was none of that sterile confrontation of inflexible ideologies which is passed off as Northern Ireland politics nowadays.

Our local governance in Northern Ireland is the worst in Europe in terms of quality and local accountability - in practical terms democracy has ceased to exist. We are vouchsafed the right to vote for a slightly augmented number of Westminster MPs, it is true, but the dismal quality of our public representation makes that democratic fig-leaf look decidedly moth-eaten.

Root and branch reform is needed. But the de facto political void of the last quarter-century has debased the quality of participants in our political life, and worse, has seen the death of the public service ethos of that older generation who made up the county councils and Stormont (yes, even Stormont!). So how do we bring back that ethos? "Aye, and there's the rub."

Philip G Gormley

Magherafelt, Co Derry