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Desmond Fennell

Sketches Of

New Ireland The


ASSOCIATION FOR ADVANCEMENT FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT The Association seeks to promote self-government and to diminish alien control in civil, ecclesiastical and economic affairs. Paul Clarke, Independent Candidate for Beaumont-Donaghmede and Dublin North Central, Website:, E-mail:, Mobile: 089-202-7675

Left: Paul Clarke, right: Desmond Fennell. Also making their appearance in the 2014 online Documentary: “LET US RISE: 1916 - 2016”.

Desmond Fennell

Sketches Of

New Ireland The


Published 1973 © Desmond Fennell 1973

Text by © Paul Clarke 2015

INTRODUCTION The New Thinking on Government 1. Over the past few years a growing number of individuals and groups have been expressing radical dissatisfaction with the present structures of government in the Republic and proposing far-reaching changes.1 Some have been concerned only with the structure of government in a particular locality, say, Ballyfermot or the Connemara Gaeltacht. Others have directed their criticism at the state as a whole, proposing changes in its entire fabric. Both movements have been interrelated, not so much actually-in terms of persons or organisations (though that has occurred)as logically and by cross-fertilisation. The local movements for change have raised the general issue by implication. When the argument for district self-government in Irish-speaking South Connemara is based (as it is) not merely on linguistic, but also on socio-economic grounds, then some case is being made, willy-nilly, for a similar structure of government in English-speaking North Connemara or South Leitrim. When it is maintained that Ballyfermot should be a self-governing township within the city of Dublin, then something to the same effect is being said about Crumlin and Clontarf. In this respect, therefore the generalised proposals for a re-structuring of government have represented the working out of the particular, local demands to their logical overall conclusions. 2. This new thinking on government does not merely seek structural “changes” or “reforms”. If that were all, it could not properly be described as new. Since the first half of the nineteenth century, many changes (usually described as “reforms”) have taken place in the structure of government in the 26 Counties. The most decisive of these occurred before independence, but further modifications have been made since 1922. The new thinking on government wants changes of a different kind and degree than those which have been occurring: changes which would substantially transform the structure and ethos of government as these have developed in Ireland over the past hundred years-first, under the British regime, then under an Irish regime which retained the British system, and its direction of change, in all essentials. The literature on this theme includes Charles McCarthy’s The Distasteful Challenge; T. J. Barrington’s Addendum to the Devlin Report ; various writings by Mr. Barrington and Desmond Roche in Administration; submissions by



various bodies arising out of the White Paper on Local Government-most notably, the Report by the Institute of Public Administration’s Study Group entitled “More Local Government: A Programme for Development,” but also the recommendations published by the Local Government and Public Services Union, the ICTU. Muintir na Tire, the Community Consultative Council, ACRA and the short-lived Council for Local Government Reform (Dublin); unpublished lectures by Prof. Ivor Browne, Dept. of Psychiatry, St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, on “Man, His Environment and Human Development,” “Towns and Villages: Needs for Survival,” “Environment and Mental Health” and “ Draft Outline for a Living Centre and Human Development in a Municipal Housing Estate;” and my own pamphlets, Build the Third Republic, Take the Faroes for Example and A New Nationalism for the New Ireland. A plan for Gaeltacht self-government has been published by Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta, and a scheme for new structures of government in Connacht by Comhairle Chonnacht. Representative bodies in Ballyfermot, Finglas and the Dublin Liberties have been calling for self-government for their districts. Finally, in the more strictly political field, regional governments have been advocated · by the Christian Democratic Party and supported in principle by the Labour Party, while the Provisional Republican Movement has made the complete re-structuring and decentralisation of government the basic plank in its political programme.

3. A more precise way of putting it is that the new thinking on government wishes to change the direction in which change in our governmental structures has been moving. Thus, instead of the uncoordinated proliferation of separate governmental agencies (Departments, Departmental offshoots, semi-state boards, county development teams; county and urban councils, county committees of agriculture and vocational education, regional health boards, etc.), the gradual coordination of all governmental and semi-state services in a hierarchy of agreed local centres; instead of the progressive concentration of powers at the centre of government, the decentralisation of powers throughout the land; instead of government trying to cater, in a fragmentary fashion, for an increasing number of fragmentary needs of individual citizens, government increasingly exercised on behalf of communities for the overall needs of each community and of its constituent families and persons; instead of government becoming more incomprehensible and irrational, government becoming more intelligible and rational; in short, instead of government rendering itself structurally more inhuman, government being rendered structurally more humane-more like a work of rational, feeling, caring, social man.


4. The basic reason why the new thinking on government wants tills change of direction is that it has a philosophy of man and government which differs radically from that which has de facto-even if often unconsciously-shaped the present system. Consequently, it has a different set of values from that which has shaped the present system. 5. Its distinctive values, in respect of government, can be illustrated by citing two statements which it subscribes to, and which the established philosophy of government implicitly rejects. The first is a resolution of the Council of Europe Deliberative Assembly (of which Ireland is a member). The resolution, passed on May 14, 1969, reads: 1. The autonomy of a local community is the right of that community to manage under its own responsibility its own affairs with a freely~elected assembly. 2. The principle of local autonomy shall be embodied in the constitution of each state. 3. To safeguard their autonomy, local communities shall be allowed such form of organisation as will enable them to meet the requirements of the population. 4. Local communities shall have the right to associate lawfully with each other for any purpose serving their common interests. 5. Any measures affecting local interests shall be taken by the local authorities in preference to the authorities of larger communities. 6. Representatives of local communities shall be heard on any measure involving the future of such communities. 7. Supervision of measures taken by local communities shall not exceed the control of their legality. 8. Autonomy implies that local communities shall have the free disposal of finances distinct, particularly, from those of the state. 9. Funds shall be available to the local communities in proportion to the tasks assumed by those communities. The second statement is from the submission of the Local Government and Public Services Union on the Government’s White Paper. It was published in the Union’s journal Forum, Autumn 1971. Various definitions have been advanced for the term “local government,” mainly relating to the nature of services provided by the local authorities. A more fundamental definition, however, would describe local government as the basic socio-political territorial unit of government. The unit to


comprise a community of people, providing their social and economic services for themselves, taking an active and constructive part in the business of government, and deciding for themselves within the limits of what national policies and local resources will allow. Taken to its logical conclusion, this concept must alter the present legal base upon which local government has rested in Ireland.... (Italics mine). 6. The new thinking on government wishes to see the values affirmed in those statements implemented in Irish government structures. It seeks this not merely because government so structured would be good in itself i.e. humane, participative and socially just, but also because it would make possible many desirable developments in regard to equality of opportunity, mental health, population distribution, regional economic equality, Gaeltacht survival, educational adaptation and democracy which are impossible under the present system. 7. The intention is not to reform “Local Government,” as the term is normally understood in the Republic i.e. the system of county, borough and urban councils, with their managers and administrations. Essentially, these bodies are merely the local agencies of a single department of government, that which deals with housing, roads, planning permissions and a few other minor matters. So they are concerned only with a very small section of governmental activity-not to mention the activities of semi-state bodies. (Some academic writers, disregarding ordinary speech and understanding, use the term “local government” to include vocational education committees and county committees of agriculture. Needless to say, these bodies are not part of what is normally meant in Ireland by the term “local government.” They are agencies working directly under the control of the Departments of Education and Agriculture, respectively; and they are seen as such-quite separately from the “local authority” sphere.) Here is not the place to discuss why the local operations of “the Department of Housing and Roads” are differently organised than those of the other fourteen or so Departments why, in this case alone, there are elected councillors and so on-or why these local operations of government, and none other, are described as “local government.” The point is that the new thinking on government is not concerned, in any special way, with governmental services in respect of housing and roads, nor with reforming the agencies engaged in this activity. It is concerned with all the local services of all governmental and semi-state agencies, and its aim is to re-structure and integrate all these


services within common territorial units of small, medium and large size. It wishes to do this for the reasons mentioned in the preceding paragraph. 8. The overriding purpose is to create a system of government which is humane in its structure and operation in each territory and community of the nation, and as a whole. Naturally, a system of government which is humanely fashioned, in regard to its structure and its mode of operation, does not oblige its users to use it humanely, in order to make themselves a good human life. Human bodies and minds are humanely fashioned: some people use them humanely, others do not. What is important, however, is that they are humanely fashioned in the first place, so that the possibility of humane use and operation exists. The movement for better structures of government urges us to conceive and create a system of government which will tend to enhance our lives rather than to frustrate them, to increase our control of our affairs rather than diminish our mastery over them; a form of government, in short, which will tend on the whole to further a good human life (rather than a bad life or a mere existence) in each part of our country. 9. One aspect of the good human life which is frequently, today, equated with its entirety is a flourishing economy in which well-remunerated employment and a comfortable material existence-or at least the latterare available for all who seek them. The equation of this condition with the good human life is made by administrators, politicians, public ideologues and commercial advertisers-and by people in general, despairingly, and in spite of themselves. The facts of life, death, mental suffering and material ugliness in our economically most prosperous cities show it to be a false equation. Not surprisingly, for man is human-not merely animal. The new thinking on government, being a humanist movement, rejects this equation and its implicit animalism. It points out the human poverty and deprivation of the well-fed, well-paid, well-housed, physically healthy masses; it says that they are starved of participation in institutions and community and need badly “to create units of society brought down to human size, where they can again feel and have an existence as human beings, not merely as machine components� (Ivor Browne). 10. On the other hand, since the new thinking on government regards a prosperous economy as a constituent part of the good human life, it shares the concern of many about the absence of such an economy in the greater part of the Republic, and especially in Connacht and


western Ireland generally. However, it affirms that efforts to correct such “regional imbalance”- to “develop” underdeveloped areas-must fail in the long run, unless the task is undertaken by the people of these regions themselves, acting through their local and regional representative institutions. In affirming this, it has the uncompromising support of the European Conference of Local Authorities, expressed in successive studies and resolutions (in particular, Resolutions 39, 40, 41, 42, 45 and 47). This, for example, from Resolution 42: “Regional planning policy cannot be conceived, directed or applied without the permanent and organised participation at the various levels of the population concerned, represented by their elected municipal and regional councils and the various intermediary bodies (professional organisations, associations, trade unions).” In making this affirmation, the new thinking on government points to the constant failure in this century of the Dublin Government’s attempts to “save the West” or to “save the Gaeltacht” as proof of its contention. After vast expenditure and countless schemes and plans, both these parts of Ireland still lack adequate, self-generating economies. The economic differences between the West and East of Ireland continue to increase rather than to diminish. The new thinking on government regards these failures as quite unnecessary. 11. At the same time as the new thinking has been gathering force and conviction in the Republic, a great critical debate about the structure of government has been taking place in Northern Ireland. Much of this Northern debate, and of the thinking which has accompanied it, has dealt with issues of a somewhat different kind than those discussed in the Republic. But there has been a considerable area of common ground. Among the contributions to this common ground are Ronald Bunting’s pamphlet Blueprint for Local Government, advocating a three-tier structure of community councils, regional district councils and regional parliament; the MacRory Report, which recommended the recasting of government in the North in the form of 26 district councils under four area boards and a regional government; the Republican proposals for a similarly three-tier structure of district-regional-provincial government in Ulster and the other provinces; and John Robb’s pamphlet Sell-Out or Opportunity? which also advocated a three-tier system of government (Little Deme, Great Deme, Provincial Assembly) for Ulster and for the other provinces. Moreover, underlying much of the Northern political debate was the assumption that the area would continue to have some sort of “regional government” (whether within the UK or within a new


Republic of Ireland); and the idea of regional government has played a central role in the new thinking in the Republic. Finally, the experiences of the people of the Northern ghettoes in the field of improvised selfgovernment has set many of them thinking of a structure of urban community which would cause no surprise to the Ballyfermot Community Development Association of the Dublin Liberties Association. 12. Insofar as the new thinking in the North and in the Republic has this common ground, it is contributing (whether consciously or not) to the emergence of the New Ireland. For if “New Ireland” means anything, it means a new Irish nation fashioned from the social debris of the Irish and British nations now present in Ireland. And that presupposes not merely different structures of government than exist now, North, South, East or West, but the community-building kind of structures which the new thinking advocates. What we have now in Ireland is not a nation but debris of three nations, and especially of the Irish nation: masses of dissociated individuals whose affairs are controlled for them “from elsewhere” and “’by others”-a “population” bereft of native forms or shape. Our present alienated forms of government are those which correspond to, and reflect, this socially disintegrated and prostrate state. A nation, on the other hand, is a self-shaping social unit, a distinctive community of communities. So a “new Irish nation” means an Ireland re-structured as a community of communities, and possessing, therefore, a system of government which reflects, underpins and helps to form that kind of social structure. It is precisely such a system of government that the new thinking on government envisages. Hence its vital and central role in the conception and shaping of the new Ireland. It fulfils this role and builds the New Ireland in two distinct but complementary ways: on the one hand, when it directs its efforts to the particular task of creating a Connacht or an Ulster, a Belfast or Dublin, a South Munster or a Gaeltacht, governing itself as a community of communities; on the other, when it takes an allIreland view and projects structures of government which would enable all kinds of Irishmen to form a community of communities together. 13. The general arguments for the new structures have been amply presented in the published writings on the subject. Local applications of these arguments can be found there too. Variants of the new structures for this or that area, for the Republic as a whole, or for Ireland generally, have been sketched out in words, and the roles of the various tiers of government outlined in some detail. I believe it is time to move on and


start sketching the new system of self-governing communities on the map of Ireland. This is what I shall be attempting-in-part-on the following pages. The “part” that concerns me here is the system of districts and regions. Within this context, I shall also be concerned with community councils and, to some extent, with dioceses. Clearly, the work of sketching requires the sketcher to take a stance, to make up his mind between various alternatives, to plump for one line rather than another. So I shall be doing this in the following pages, while hoping that my effort will induce or provoke many other and better artists to take up where I leave off. Ultimately, if it is to be the Ireland that suits us-a real home for us all where we and our children can feel at ease in the world and grow human together-everyone in Ireland must contribute at least a brushstroke to the picture. Assembling the Basic Materials 14. Among the basic materials which I needed for the actual map-making were maps showing the county electoral areas of Connacht, the Dublin city wards, and the District Electoral Divisions of County Dublin. None of these maps is available to the citizen in the Government Publications Office (Dublin) or anywhere else-a comment in Itself, surely, on our system of government and its relationship to the citizens. For the county electoral areas, I had to get lists of the District Electoral Divisions (DEDs) which make up each county electoral area and draw my own maps of these county subdivisions on maps showing the DEDs.2 Getting to see the map of Dublin city wards and a map of the new Co. Dublin DEDs required direct approaches to the civil service. For the north-eastern part of the country, I needed a general map of the new Northern Ireland local government districts, and ward maps of Belfast and the surrounding districts. These were readily available for purchase in Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, Belfast. They are a pleasure to look at and to use. 15. I wish to thank the following persons for the help they gave me in getting the information and other basic materials which I needed for the these sketches: Michael Cunningham, Omagh; Brendan O’Ciobhain of the Ordnance Survey; Miss O’Grady and her assistant in Galway County Council Office; the priests of South Connemara; Michael O’Seighin of Rosdumhach, Iorras; J. B. Carolan, Belfast; Gerry O’Donovan, Dublin; Mr. Griffin and Miss Carroll of the Census of Population Office, Dublin;


Mr. McEvoy and Mr. Brendan O’Donoghue, Dept. of Local Government. My thanks also to Bob Quinn for helping in the execution of one of the maps. D.F., Maoinis, May 1973. County electoral areas are groupings of District Electoral Divisions. District Electoral Divisions are groupings of townlands. 2

GOVERNMENT IN THE NEW IRELAND: AN OVERVIEW 16. Here is what I envisage in general terms. a. Government in the New Ireland is simply, rationally and conveniently structured. Those parts of it which concern families and individuals directly are all dealt with in one’s own district. The local community council and the district council office provide information about the regional services and facilitate access to them when this is required. Individual citizens, and local business enterprises of whatever ‘ kind, never need to deal with government offices above regional level. So government is easy for the citizen to understand and he has easy physical access to it. b. It is also a system of government in which the citizens feel at home, and this for several reasons. The ward, that is to say, the smallest local unit, corresponds generally to a man’s home parish or, in urban areas, to his neighbourhood. Its community council has a representative on the local district council. The district and regional units of government correspond roughly, in extent, to what a man would call “my own district” and, in a broader sense, “my own part of the country.” Generally, his own district and the districts around him are called by the names which he himself would use to describe them-or at least by names which he finds reasonable and acceptable. As for the regions, they correspond roughly, both in extent and name, to the major historic and natural divisions of Ireland. Moreover, the districts and regions, and even the dioceses, make social and economic sense. c. In short, the territorial units of government are made to human measure: they respect and reflect the local self-consciousness, the


socio-economic patterns, and the historic sense, of man in Ireland. This makes Irishmen feel at home in them. Add to that the fact that virtually all of government which directly interests a man takes place on his own doorstep, so to speak, or at least in his own part of the country, and is carried on by men who speak his own languagemost of them with his own accent-and who share the same life, vital interests and set of values as he himself does. Moreover, those who are in general control and who take the major decisions are men路 whom he himself and those around him have elected to do so. d. For obvious reasons, government in the New Ireland is well-informed government. The land, streets and people within its domain, and their attendant circumstances, are well known to those who take the decisions affecting them. Moreover, both for this reason and because the interests of the governors and the governed are to such a large degree identical, government tends to deal sensitively with the life it administers and to work beneficently, or at worst intelligibly. Other factors impelling it in this direction are the constant wellinformed scrutiny to which it is directly and indirectly subject, and the knowledge of the district and regional representatives that they are directly answerable for the overall welfare of the district or region where they live. e. Finally, as must be clear from the foregoing, the very structures of government themselves encourage the development of community, that is to say, of individual local communities and of a community of communities binding them all. And this, as it happens, is the kind of society and social structure in which man (and consequently, Irish man) has a chance of flourishing and is able to realise himself. f. So much for the overall picture. Here are some notes on its component parts.

17. The Community Council a. The community council is a voluntary representative body speaking and acting on behalf of local communities of 1500-6000 people in urban and rural areas. Its composition and functions, and its relationship to the District Council, are generally as outlined in paragraphs 4.1 to 4.1.10 of the IPA Report. This includes representation for the community councils on the statutory District Councils. b. It is difficult to find a suitable name for the civil, administrative unit which the community council acts for and represents. It seems


desirable to have a name which like “district” or “region”- applies throughout the entire civil community, whether in built-up areas or in areas largely consisting of open countryside and villages. “Community” is not a suitable term because the word has a distractingly wide range of meaning, partly of a qualitative and moral nature, and because larger and smaller local groupings can also be described as-or aspire to be - “communities.” Again, while in rural parts, the unit we are talking about would naturally correspond to a parish (or to a parish with suitably readjusted boundaries), in built-up areas this would not be the case. After considering “township,” “neighbourhood” and “commune” (in the Continental sense), and finding none of them satisfactory, I decided that the best of an awkward bunch is ward. This is the term which has been used to describe the subdivisions of districts in the district-system drawn up for Northern Ireland by the Harrison Commission last year (see Appendix I). Needless to say, this is merely a matter of civil and administrative terminology: the social unit in question will still call itself a community, as will many other social units from the town-land unit to the nation as a whole. In Irish, the term pobal seems quite suitable for describing the civil unit represented by a community council.

18. The District a. The District is the basic unit of statutory government. It contains a community of I0-40,000 people. These figures (as those for the ward) represent a sliding scale relative to the population density of the Region and of the various parts of the Region. In Regions largely consisting of built-up area, most of the Districts have populations ranging from 30-40,000; in predominantly rural Regions, most districts contain from 10-20,000 people. b. My aim in deciding on the figures 10-40,000 is to achieve a unit large enough to support a wide range of self-governing activities, but never so large that it could not form “a real local community” in the broadest sense of the term. By that I mean a community which has a strong feeling of direct common belonging, and which can reasonably regard itself as a basic or primary unit of the nation, and function as such. I want to have, in each case, what the people in question feel to be their “district.” I agree with Dr. lvor Browne that such a district of “human size,” in urban conditions, would I comprise between 30,000 and 50,000 people. For the purpose of these sketches I am setting


the maximum at 40,000. c. In the 26 Counties, outside the major built-up areas, the District corresponds, by and large, to a county electoral area (as of 1972) or to two such areas combined. In the major built-up areas, it is a combination of wards. In the six north-eastern counties a District corresponds either to a Harrison district or (where this is too large) to suitable combinations of Harrison-district wards. d. Broadly speaking, the role and function of the District in government are as described in the IPA Report, pars.· 4.2 to 4.2.19, and in “Is There a Future for the District?” by T. J. Barrington, Administration, Winter 1971. The only difference of note is that whereas these writings conceive of the District within the context of county government, I place the District in the context of regional government. e. The administrative functions of the District include all personal services in the spheres of social welfare, education, labour guidance, trading and employment practices, housing, planning permissions, agriculture and fishing, small-industry development, etc. f. In the spheres of government under District control there is no appeal from an administrative decision to any office or office-holder of the regional administration. Appeals in such matters go to the regional administrative tribunal which decides whether or not the decision in question accords with the relevant statutory law. Thus “buck-passing” from the lowest level of government to higher levels is ruled out, and the district government is encouraged to conduct its affairs with the seriousness attaching to full responsibility. 19. The Region a. The Districts are grouped in Regions which range in population from 172,000 for the Midlands and 174,000 for North Connacht to 668,000 and 877,000, respectively, for the Belfast and Dublin Regions. An exception is the Gaeltacht Region which has a population of about 40,000. Apart from this special case, Regions are major divisions of one or other of the four provinces. In a couple of localised instances this involves a slight revision of provincial boundaries. b. Regional government is concerned with (1) public services which have a high technological content; (2) economic, physical and educational planning in the context of provincial plans. c. Some people, and notably the authors of the IPA Report, argue for grouping the Districts into county units of government and these, in


turn, into regional administrations. For my own part, and in agreement with Muintir na Tire and the Community Consultative Council, I cannot see what real purpose of government is served by grouping the Districts into county units and regional units rather than directly into well chosen regional units. For the county is a random unit, varying quite irrationally in extent and population. Specifically, a county unit of government would have populations ranging from 28,000 (Leitrim, Longford) to 149,000 (Galway), 353,000 (Cork) and 852,000 (Dublin); or, if Cork and Dublin county boroughs and counties are reckoned as “four counties” altogether, populations of 129,000 and 224,000, 568,000 and 284,000, respectively. To justify giving an identical rank and role in government to units of such varied population size, weighty arguments of an historical, institutional and socioeconomic order would be required. But such arguments do not exist. By and large, the county boundaries were not defined with a view to recognising social, economic or historical units. Much less were they defined with the purpose of providing rational units of government in the context of the country as a whole. The counties were defined, successively, over the course of several centuries, as English conquest advanced, and their borders represent, in many instances, merely the outer limits of consolidated conquest at a given time. Nor again, on the other hand, do the counties possess venerable institutions of self-government, anchored in the traditions, loyalty and affections of their people. It was for reasons such as these, and because alternative units seemed preferable, that the county has been omitted from the new scheme of local government in the North (see Appendix I); and it was for the same reasons that this omission was accepted there without complaint. Needless to say, neither in the North nor elsewhere in Ireland, does the fact that the county ceases to be an administrative unit for some government departments (it was never so for all) affect its status as a unit for sport. Derry and Down continue to compete in GAA football. There will also continue to be a Tyronemen’s Association. d. It should be noted that making the Region rather than the county the second-tier unit of government is not tantamount to “deciding for a second-tier unit with a significantly larger population than the county-advocates consider right or feasible.” The figures for the larger “county units” (cited above) illustrate this. It is more a case of standardising for the second-tier unit a population size which the county-advocates regard as admissible for this tier of government.


I would say “suitable.” Leaving aside the case of the Gaeltacht, I believe that the next tier of government above District level should comprise a population of at least 150,000. e. Some who discount the usefulness of individual county units of government advocate regional units which are combinations of two, three or more counties. But much the same arguments as can be used against the individual county unit can be used against making an aggregate of such units into an administrative norm. And there is the significant fact that the regional unit which has developed most as such, namely, the “Mid-West” or, more properly, North Munster Region, is not an aggregate of county units but of two-and-a-half counties! f. My own compromise with the county system is to opt for Regions which, as a general rule, are groupings of county electoral areas within a province. This general rule implies the acceptance of many county boundaries as regional boundaries and allows, where suitable, to make a Region a virtual aggregate of counties. The Midlands Region is an example. At the same time, this regional system recognises the four great provincial divisions of Ireland-something which many of our regionalists have failed to do. g. In a Region as populous as Dublin, I can see the necessity for “SubRegions.” By Sub-Regions I mean purely administrative subdivisions of the Region-like the Swiss demi-cantons. These subdivisions, which might be two or three in number, would be standardised for all governmental and semi-state services in the Region. To what extent this administrative device might be used I leave an open question.

20. The Diocese a. Everything which has been said of the desirability of shaping units of civil government to “human measure” applies with at least equal force to units of ecclesiastical government. There is little point in the Church talking about “building community” (as so many priests, bishops and theologians do) if the Church’s diocesan structure its structure of operation-has little or no relationship to the social structures of life in Ireland today or for centuries past (see Appendix II). No better argument than the diocesan map of Ireland for those who would hold that the Church has to do with “another world” or a “dead world,” and not with the here-and-now world-with the life that we know and are involved in.


b. The Catholic diocesan system in Ireland was defined in the twelfth century. In shape and nomenclature, it has remained largely unchanged to this day. Its boundaries reflect, in a general way, the secular political structures of the twelfth century. c. In line with the Church’s traditional policy of defining dioceses in a way that reflects and sanctifies secular realities, I envisage dioceses comprising groups of Districts within each Region, and called by the name of the town where the bishop lives. This arrangement makes it possible for the deaneries-the diocesan subdivisions-to correspond to Districts. 21. Not Enough? a. The Republic of Ireland has less local government than any other state in Western Europe (and, probably, in the world). The words “less local government� can mean three different things: firstly, more centralised decision-making; secondly, local authorities controlling fewer matters; and thirdly, a smaller number of local authorities. In our case, all three meanings apply. b. The new scheme of government which I have been outlining will go far to remedy the first and second deficiency mentioned above. But it may well be objected that it will go little distance towards remedying the third: the extremely small number of elective local authorities in relation to population. c. France, With 38,000 communes, has one local authority per 1,300 inhabitants; Switzerland, with 3,000 communes, has one per 1,800 people. In West Germany, there is a local authority for every 2,400 persons; in Denmark, one per 5,000; in Norway and Sweden one per 9,000. In the Republic there are 115 elective local authorities or one per 25,000 inhabitants. d. It is true that the New Ireland I am sketching will not bring that figure down much below 1 per 15,000. In other words, we shall still have far fewer local authorities, in relation to population, than the other countries of Western Europe. Obviously, the situation would change completely, and we would be more in line with the Continent, if we were to make all the wards-all the community councils-into local authorities proper. e. I should like to see every small Irish town, every large village or group of villages, with its Burgermeister or maire. I am very sensitive to the civic dignity which this confers. But I think that by achieving some-


thing like what is shown on the following pages, we would have made a great advance-and that it is impractical to envisage more for the present. Besides, many of the smaller local authorities in other European countries have a very narrow range of functions, and numbers of them are being amalgamated into larger units. All the local authorities we are envisaging will have a wide range of functions; and the Districts have the option of delegating powers, where suitable, to community councils.

22. Above the Region Though I am not concerned in these sketches with government above “regional” level, I indicate my general support for the idea of Regions grouped under Provincial Parliaments and a central government in Athlone. I believe that the political and social advantages of separating the political capital from the commercial capital-as in West Germany, Holland, Switzerland, the USA, China and other countries-are irrefutably obvious. In Ireland, moreover, the ingrained antipathy to “Dublin government” that exists in the North is a factor pointing in the same direction. As for the Provincial Parliaments, I have in mind such “subordinate legislatures” as are provided for in Article 15 of the 1937 Constitution. But I leave such matters for closer attention at another time. These sketches have to do with the basic structures of government. THE MAPS 23. New Connacht is divided into two Regions: NORTH CONNACHT and SOUTH CONNACHT. See New Connacht map p. 21. 24. North Connacht Region a. Population: 174,000. Regional capital : Ballaghadereen. 10 Districts; average population 17,400, ranging from NORTH LEITRIM (10,500) and BOYLE (10,700) to NORTH MAYO (24,000) and SLIGO (30,700). b. Unless otherwise indicated, the District: government centre is the town bearing the same name as the District. c. Boundaries of Districts. BOYLE District corresponds to the county electoral area (CEA) of that name. SWINFORD is Swinford CEA plus two district electoral divisions (DEDs) from Castlerea CEA: Ballaghadereen and Edmondstown. These DEDs were transferred


to correct an awkward boundary. The result is to restore Ballaghadereen (formerly in Mayo) to its original administrative milieu. d. Because most of the county electoral areas of counties Sligo and Leitrim have populations of less than 10,000, the Districts have been formed as follows : NORTH LEITRIM: Manorhamilton and Dromahair CEAs. SOUTH LEITRIM: Carrick-on-Shannon and Ballinamore ,CEAs. SLIGO: Sligo and Dromore CEAs plus the DEDs Ballintogher East and West and Collooney from Ballymote CEA. BALLYMOTE: The remainder of Ballymote CEA with Tobercurry CEA. e. In order to group the Irish-speaking localities of western Mayo into a single District, and to recognise the clear natural unity of .the AchillErris country, a District of that name has been formed from pans of Killala and Westport CEAs. As a result: NORTH MAYO is Ballina CEA plus the DEDs Kilfian West, South and East, Killala, Lackan North and South, Ballycastle and Beldergmore-all from Killala CEA. ACHILL-ERRIS: The remainder of Killala CEA plus Ballycroy. North and South, Corraun Achill, Achill, Dooega and Slievemore from Westport CEA. WESTPORT: The remainder of Westport CEA. f. CASTLEBAR is Castlebar CEA minus Owenbrin, Ballinchalla and Cappaghduff DEDs which are transferred to NORTH CONNEMARA. The object is to include the Irish-speaking_ groups south of Tourmakeady in the same District as the adjoining Irish-speaking groups of North Connemara. Supporting this arrangement are the natural unity of this area 路 centred on Lough Mask and the common pursuit of sheep-farming both here and throughout North Connemara. 25. South Connacht Region a. Population: 203,000. Regional capital: Athenry. 10 Districts; average population 20,300, ranging from ELPHIN (10,000) and GLENNAMADDY (11,200) to LOUGHREA (26,700) and GALWAY (40,000). b. Boundaries of Districts. BALLINASLOE, ROSCOMMON, ELPHIN, CASTLEREA and CLAREMORRIS correspond to the CEAs of the same names-except for the slight alteration in the Castlerea-Swinford boundary mentioned in 24c. c. In the rest of the Region, the pattern of CEAs was altered for three purposes: to form a Gaeltacht District out of Irish-speaking South


Connemara; to gather the Irishspeaking groups around Lough Mask into a single District (see 24f); and to reduce GALWAY to a conveniently-shaped District of 40,000 people. The results are as follows: CONAMARA THEAS (a District of the Gaeltacht Region) includes DEDs from Oughterard and Galway CEAs. From Oughterard CEA: Knockboy, Skanive, Owengowla, Turlough, Kilcummin (Ought.), Kilcummin (Gal.), Camus, Selerna (Gal.), Crumpaun, Lettermore, Gorumna, and some townlands of Oughterard. From Galway CEA: Inishmore, Killannin, Slievaneena (minus some townlands), Spiddle, Furbogh. (Perhaps some townlands from Barna and Moycullen DEDs should be added). NORTH CONNEMARA: The remaining DEDs of Oughterard CEA plus Owenbrin, Ballinchalla and Cappaghduff from Castlebar CEA. GALWAY: The remaining DEDs of Galway CEA minus the nine which fall within Tuam Rural District, and plus Oranmore, Stradbally, Clarinbridge and Ballynacourty from Loughrea CEA. TUAM: The part of Tuam CEA which falls within Tuam Road District plus the nine DEDs from Galway CEA. GLENNAMADDY: The remainder of Tuam CEA. 26. Government Centres It will be noticed that the regional capitals of NORTH CONNACHT and SOUTH CONNACHT are not the largest towns in their respective Regions; similarly, several District government centres (Collooney, Mohill, Maam Cross, Ballymote), are not in the largest town. There is much to be said for placing government centres in towns other than the commercial capital (i.e. the largest town) of the District or Region. For one thing, this would give employment where it is needed more instead of where it is least needed. It would also provide a second focal point within the District or Region. In this connection, see my remarks on the national capital in par. 22.



27. The sketch of new Connacht dioceses above can be compared with the diocesan map of Connacht in Appendix II. Note that the new dioceses comprise groupings of Districts within each Region.


28. The Map below shows a District divided into wards.

29. Conamara Theas a. Conamara Theas is a District of the Gaeltacht Region. Population: 13,300. There are 7 wards; average population, 1,900. Each ward (pobal) has its community council (comhairle phobail). b. To a considerable extent, the ward boundaries follow boundaries of parishes and “chapel districts� existing in January 1973. But except for CARNA, no ward coincides with any one of those divisions. c. The District belongs to the Gaeltacht diocese. The (new) parish boundaries coincide with those of the wards. For a full account of Gaeltacht Region, see par. 32.



30. Regions of the New Ireland a. 15 Regions. With the exception of the GAELTACHT Region (pop. 40,000), the population range from 172,000 to 877,000 with most of them in the range 170-270,000. SOUTH CONNACHT: 203,000. NORTH CONNACHT: 174,000. WEST ULSTER: 312,000.3 EAST ULSTER: 544,000. BELFAST: 668,000. SOUTH ULSTER: 232,000. NORTH LEINSTER: 213,000. MIDLANDS : 172,000. DUBLIN: 877,000. SOUTH LEINSTER: 175,000. EAST MUNSTER: 211,000. WEST MUNSTER: 212,000. CORK: 202,000. NORTH MUNSTER: 270,000. b. Notes on boundaries. The boundary between S. MUNSTER and E. MUNSTER follows the main Cork-Rath Luirc road. E. MUNSTER takes in the Piltown area of Co. Kilkenny; S. LEINSTER includes the Arklow area of Co. Wicklow. For DUBLIN and BELFAST, see special maps (pp. 24, 26). The boundary between E. ULSTER and W. ULSTER follows the eastern boundaries of the Harrison Local Government districts of Limavady, Strabane and Omagh, and proceeds south just east of Ballygawley to the Monaghan boundary which it follows to its junction with the Fermanagh boundary. S. ULSTER includes the Harrison District of Newry and Mourne along with the area around. Keady; also Co. Louth as far south as the River Glyde. c. I suggest that these Regions correspond pretty well to the main natural and social divisions of Ireland-beneath the major .divides of North, East, West, South (Ulster, Leinster, Connacht, Munster). d. In population size (except for DUBLIN, BELFAST and E. ULSTER) they are equivalent to the average Swiss canton, Norwegian county or Swedish county, most of which have populations of 150-300,000. They also coincide pretty closely with the normal population range of French departments (200-600,000). 31. Irish “Regions” in European Perspective a. How do these Regions relate to what is meant by the term region in European political parlance today? The Council of Europe’s Committee on Cooperation in Municipal and Regional Matters


published a Study Paper (1972) on “Regional Institutions and Regionalisation in Member States.” We read on p. 15: The term “region” needs to be defined. Its meaning varies not only from one country to another, but also depending on whether it is being used by an economist, a jurist or a politician. At its first meeting the Committee on Cooperation gave a definition of the term ... : “the largest territorial unit in each country i.e. immediately beneath the central government, with or without legal personality.” (Italics mine). In some cases, the figure given is approximate to within a few thousand. With the exception of the Gaeltacht Districts of Conamara Theas and Cnoc Fola (pop. 22,000), units of the Gaeltacht are included in the population figure for the Region surrounding them.

What the Study means by “legal personality” is a self-governing role, as in the case of the Swiss canton, the Dutch province, the Italian region or the German Land, all of which rank as “regions” in accordance with the definition given. The other kind of regions, those without a self-governing role, are those which exist merely as major subdivisions of the country for economic and physical planning. Such regions are to be found in France, Britain, Denmark and the Republic of Ireland. b. The above mentioned Study also defines another category of territorial unit: the micro-region. This is an intermediate territorial unit of government existing between the “municipalities” or primary local authorities and the “regions.” Examples of micro-regions are the French departements, German Landkreise, Belgian and Italian provinces, Scandinavian counties-all of them forming the second tier of government in their respective countries. There are also, in various countries, purely administrative micro-regions possessing no self-governing role. c. Consequently, whether the units which we call Regions in Ireland are to rank as “regions” in the general European sense depends solely on whether or not they are “the largest territorial units i.e. immediately beneath the central government.” If they are, then they rank as “regions” in the general European sense, alongside units so entitled (the Italian and French Regions) and units not so entitled (German Lander, Swiss cantons, and Dutch provinces). At the same


time, the Irish Regions are unusual regions by general West European standards, and that for two reasons. Firstly, they have only a single tier of government beneath them (instead of the usual two tiers). Secondly, their population range corresponds, generally, to that of West European micro-regions rather than regions. The only other European country whose regions are in the same population range is Switzerland. Apart from the Swiss case, where a special historical situation obtains, the regions of the West European states range in population from 100,000 to 17 million, but most of the regions in each country have populations of from one to five million. d. In this perspective, it is our provinces, rather than the units we call Regions, which have the makings of a “regional” system of the standard West European order, and that on two counts. Firstly, by grouping the Regions of the New Ireland into four self governing provinces, we would have four European-type regional units with an average population of more than one million: Ulster, 1,747,000; Leinster, 1,437,000; Munster, 395,000; and Connacht, 377,000. Secondly, these provincial “regions” would then have the standard two tiers of government beneath them. Under this arrangement the Irish territorial units which we call Regions (we might find another name, but it is really’ immaterial) would then be standard European micro-regions, not merely in population range, but in function i.e. they would be intermediate territorial units of government. e. Needless to say, the proper criterion for deciding on our government structures is not any West European norm, but what we judge to be best and, in particular, best suited to Irish circumstances and needs. But in view of our increasing association with the other West European countries, it is pertinent to know, and to take account of, how our structures and our use of terms relate to theirs.

32. The Gaeltacht Region a. It is often remarked that the development of the Gaeltacht can be tackled “only within a general framework of Western development.” There is much truth in this. Hence the particular relevance for Gaeltacht development of the structures of government in West Ulster, Connacht and South Munster which are sketched in these pages. By providing a framework for “Western development” generally, they provide a framework for the specific and related work of developing the Gaeltacht Region.


b. The Gaeltacht Region consists of those districts and pockets of Irish speech on which an Irish-speaking Region can be realistically based, provided it is constituted before January 1974. c. The Region contains six Districts and one autonomous ward (pobal feinriaraitheach). Two of the Districts are unitary, four of them federated (ceantair chomhnasctha). d. The two unitary Districts are CONAMARA THEAS (pop. 13,300) and CNOC FOLN (pop. 9,000). The remaining pockets of Irish speech (all but one with a population of less than 1,000) are grouped, as wards, in the federated Districts : DUN NA NGALL, ACAILL-IORRAS, CONAMARA THUAIDH and AN MHUMHAIN. The autonomous ward is RATH CAIRN. e. In the autonomous ward, and in each of the isolated wards making up the federated Districts, there is a ward office (oifig phobail) fulfilling functions similar to those of an ordinary District government office (such as are to be found in CONAMARA THEAS and CNOC FOLA). Services falling within the competence of the regional council (Comhairle na Gaeltachta), and especially services with a technological content, are provided to these wards through contractual arrangements between Comhairle na Gaeltachta and the surrounding Region, e.g., in the case of Corea Dhuibhne or Oilean Cleire, through a contractual arrangement between Comhairle na Gaeltachta and the South Munster Regional Council. f. Representation on Comhairle na Gaeltachta is divided equally between the two unitary Districts, on the one hand, and the federated Districts with Rath Cairn, on the other. g. The decisive cause of the gradual disappearance of Irish-speaking communities (i.e. of the Gaeltacht) throughout Ireland has been language change-not migration, and therefore not any economic or other factor causing migration. This process of language change will nor be halted as long as the Irish-speaking communities lack a system of Irish-speaking self-government such as I have outlined here. This name is used as a district name fur the Irish-speaking district in and around Gaoth Dobhair.



33. Dublin Region a. Population: 877,000. 26 Districts; average population, 33,800, ranging from THE LIBERTIES (11,200) and LUCAN (21,500) to SUTTON (39,300) and ARTANE (40,000). Most Districts have a population of 30-40,000. b. The Region includes the present Dublin county and county borough, the towns of Leixlip and Bray, Rathmichael DED and the DEDs Greystones, Delgany, Kilmacanoge, Enniskerry and Powerscourt (i.e. Rathdown No. 2 Rural District). c. Boundaries of Districts. For two reasons, the electoral areas of the county and county borough failed to supply an adequate pattern for Districts. Firstly, in the Dublin suburbs, these two systems of electoral areas divide social units in a random manner. Secondly, their populations are generally in excess of 40,000 and, in some cases, considerably so. Consequently, the Districts of the Dublin Region are suitable groupings either of DEDs or of borough wards or of both kinds of unit combined. Only in four instances is this rule departed from : part of Castleknock DED is included in CABRA; parts of Rathmines D ward and of Dundrum No. 1 DED are included in MERRION; parts of Wood Quay A ward are included in THE LIBERTIES; and part of Leixlip DED is included in LUCAN. Since up-to-date maps of the Dublin DEDs and borough wards are available only to civil servants and are not on public sale, there is little point in my supplying further details. Without such maps to refer to, information about the boundaries of the New Dublin Districts in terms of DEDs or borough wards is useless. But such information can be supplied, if needed. d. The essential point of this map is that it gives general and particular shape to what is otherwise a formless, anonymous sprawl. It offers a vision of Dublin organised in such a way that its people could really get to grips with its life and control it in their own best interests, while finding and building local community identities within a general identity. I believe that even the paper image of Dublin offered here humanises its life a little. e. Compare this sketch with that of the Connacht Regions on p, 17. An interesting feature of an Ireland organised on these lines is that the individual moving from one place to another, from country to city, or from city to country, is moving, in a sense, simply from one District to another: from CLAREMORRIS to CLONTARF or from RATHFARNHAM to ACHILLERRIS. In other words, he moves from a social setting with which he is familiar to another which is essentially of the same kind-the same size more or less, the same in political and administrative structure. So the new social setting is also one with which, to a considerable degree, he is familiar. In this way, the strangeness of the new setting, and his sense of anonymity within it, are considerably reduced. No matter where he settles in Ireland, he feels, in important respects, “at home.� He has merely moved, so to speak, from one room to another. At a time when many individuals are


moving for reasons of work- changing residence within the same region or moving to other regions - and suffering much loneliness and anonymity with their attendant ills, these are important considerations.

34. Belfast Region a. Population: 668,000. 21 Districts; average population, 31,300, ranging from GLENGORMLEY (19,000 approx.) and CARRICKFERGUS (27,000) to ST. ANN’S and CLIFTON (each 40,000 approx.). Most of the Districts have a population of 30-40,000.


b. The Region includes the Harrison Local Government Districts (LGDs) North Down, Castlereagh, Belfast and Carrickfergus, part of Newtownabbey LGD and part of Lisburn LGD. (For LGDs, see Appendix 1). c. Boundaries of Districts. HOLYWOOD and BANGOR divide North Down LGD along the eastern boundary of Clandeboye and Crawfordsburn wards. DUNDONALD : comprises electoral area B of Castlereagh LGD. NEWTOWNBREDA : the remainder of Castlereagh LGD plus Drumbo ward. LISBURN: electoral areas Lisburn C and D minus Magheralave ward and plus Maze ward. DUNMURRY: electoral areas Lisburn E and D plus Magheralave ward. GLEN GORMLEY: electoral area Newtownabbey D plus Mallusk and part of Ballynure wards. NEWTOWN ABBEY: the remainder of Newtownabbey LGD. CARRICKFERGUS: corresponds to Carrickfergus LGD. The other 12 Districts are groupings of the 52 wards of Belfast LGD, mostly in fours, but in three instances (STRANMILLIS, CAVEHILL, ST. ANN’S) in fives. These groupings, and the boundaries of the 12 Districts, can be easily ascertained by comparing the NEW BELFAST sketch-map with the ward map of Belfast-Final Harrison Recommendations, April 1972. d. The remarks made in reference to NEW DUBLIN in 33d,e, apply equally, mutatis mutandis, to NEW BELFAST. e. The NEW BELFAST sketch-map suggests how the problem of policing might be tackled on a two-tier basis: District Constables serving each District and a regional police structure for training, special tasks and large scale crime.



1. The new Local Government Districts, as defined by the Harrison Commission, were established in 1972. There are 26 districts with an average population of 58,800, ranging from Moyle (14,500) and Ballymoney (22,600) to Lisburn (73,300), Londonderry (82,300) and Belfast (404,000). Most districts have a population of 25-55,000. If the Belfast district is omitted, the average population per district is 45,000.


2. In general, the districts are defined with skill and care so as to reflect social and geographical realities. But the variations in population size are too extreme for units possessing identical rank and powers in the governmental structure. In particular, the inclusion of Belfast (pop. 404,000) as a single “district” tends to deprive the term of tangible meaning. Moreover, it seems desirable on many grounds to break down this large population mass into a community of self-governing communities. Belfast apart, a few other districts also have excessively large populations for primary local authority units. 3. A severe defect, which was outside the Harrison Commission’s control, is the trivial range of functions accorded to the district councils. This results, in part, from the belief that local control, in the particular circumstances of Northern Ireland, must lead to grave injustice and thus to political instability. But there is another view, which I believe well-founded, that more, rather than less, local control is the way to solving Ulster’s political problem-especially in the cities, and especially if this local control were to be exercised within a framework of selfgoverning regions and districts.



There are considerable difficulties about drawing a sketch-map of Irish dioceses. The only diocesan map in general circulation contains several grave errors in Connacht alone, and perhaps in the other provinces also. Not all diocesan offices possess a map of the diocese in question. The most that ‘I can say about the above map is that it gives a reasonably accurate idea of the diocesan layout in Connacht. The small isolated patches in certain dioceses, joined by curling lines to other dioceses, represent parishes and half-parishes belonging to the latter dioceses, though separated from them by intervening territory. 35

Born in Belfast in 1929, Desmond Fennell attended school in Dublin, where he learned Latin and Greek and in the Leaving Certificate Examination won first place in French and German. With a Scholarship in Classical Languages he entered University College, Dublin, and there and in Trinity College studied history, economics and languages. He researched his MA thesis in Modern History at Bonn University. In 1991 the National University of Ireland awarded him its highest degree in the humanities, D. Litt., for his published work. He has lived and worked in Spain, Germany, Sweden, the USA and Italy - adding three more languages to his repertoire - and has travelled in Asia. Living in Conamara 1968-79, he was active in the ‘Gaeltacht revolution’ which changed the nature of the Irish language movement. His journalism 1969-75, rethinking the nationalist approach to the Northern problem, laid the intellectual basis for the peace process of the 1990s. From 1976 to 1982 he taught History and Politics at University College, Galway, and from 1982 to 1993, English Writing at the Dublin Institute of Technology. His books and journalism have dealt with Irish and international culture and politics, and with history, travel, religion and literature. From 1997 to 2007 Fennell lived in Anguillara on Lake Bracciano, near Rome. In the latter year he returned to Ireland and summed up his recent findings in two essays available on this site:

Copyright Š Desmond Fennell 1973. All rights reserved.

Profile for Paul Clarke

Sketches of the New Ireland  

By Desmond Fennell,

Sketches of the New Ireland  

By Desmond Fennell,