Problem of unfinished estates ‘beyond’ the council

A GOVERNMENT grant would be required to complete unfinished housing estates as the problem is beyond the “capability” of Clare County Council, a meeting has heard.

The issue of the council’s involvement in unfinished estates was raised at last week’s budget meeting.

Councillor Johnny Flynn (FG) said that while the council is making a major contribution to the community and enterprise sector, there is concern over the work required to complete a number of housing estates in the county.

County Manager Tom Coughlan said the council has previously provided € 55,000 to unfinished estates but the amount was a “drop in the ocean compared to what’s needed”.

He told the meeting that an increase in commercial rates would have allowed the council to set money aside for estates.

However, Mr Coughlan said that the problem is “beyond the capability” of the local authority.

He said the council could appeal to the government to provide a one-off grant to carry out works.

In her report, Cllr Patricia McCarthy (Ind) stated that housing maintenance “is a critical element of the housing programme both in terms of improving safety and security within the home and also within the housing estate”.

Cllr McCarthy, who chairs of the council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), continued, “During the year, 1,420 maintenance calls were logged in respect of 772 properties.

The budget for 2012 at € 891k including loan charges will see a continuation of our maintenance programme with a primary focus on essential health and safety repairs.

“Improvement works to bring the council’s housing stock in line with current rented standards were carried out on 86 units at a cost of € 153k in 2011. Should funding be provided by the Department in 2012 this programme will be continued”.

Cllr McCarthy explained that improvements were carried out on 51 vacant units through energy efficiency upgrades. She said that funding for the scheme is obtained through the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Cllr McCarthy continued, “This funding is dependent on the availability of a local contribution from internal capital receipts, which are diminishing on an annual basis. The grant rate is related to the energy improvement achieved but generally is 80% of the approved cost. It is ex- pected that the Department funding under this heading will be significantly reduced in 2012 and this will restrict the number of units that can be improved”.

Cllr McCarthy stated that is expected that in excess of 700 housing grant applications will be received by the end of the year.

She continued. “An estimated total of 540 grants will be approved as compared with 472 in 2010. Estimated expenditure for the year is € 3.375m, of which 80% is recoupable from the Department. It is anticipated that due to budgetary constraints a reduced level of activity will occur in 2012”.


Door to door rate collection deemed ‘very, very costly’

CLARE County Council is considering changes to its system of rate collection after the County Manager admitted the current “door to door” method has become too costly.

Tom Coughlan was speaking at last Tuesday’s meeting of Clare County Council as members adopted the budget for 2012.

Responding to a question from Cllr Oliver Garry (FG) about possible changes in rate collection, Mr Coughlan told the meeting that the council should have to go “door to door” to collect rates, citing the method of bill payment utilised by the ESB.

He said, “Other organisations don’t do it. It is very, very costly to be going around knocking door to door”.

He added, “I’d have to question how long we can continue to do it.”

Mr Coughlan told the meeting that new figures from 2010 National Service Indicators showed that Clare County Council had the third lowest level of absenteeism of all 34 city and county councils in the country.

He said the council’s absenteeism rate of 3.95 per cent was “significantly below” the national average.

The council will receive € 10.18m from the local government fund, a reduction of 5.45 per cent from last year.

In his report, Mr Coughlan stated that that represents a cumulative reduction of 38 per cent since 2009.

Mr Coughlan stated that the 2012 cut represented the fourth lowest reduction nationally.

Commenting on the household charge, Mr Coughlan said the charge would not represent additional income for the Council.

In his report, Mr Coughlan said it had not been possible for the council to reduce commercial rates.

He stated, “Due to the fact that the household charge is being paid into the Local Government Fund and, in light of the continuing reduction in local government funding and income from local services, it has not been possible to provide for a decrease in rates in this draft budget.

“It is proposed to meet the ongoing reductions in funding through achieving efficiencies as in previous years, and consequently an increase in the level of commercial rates is not provided for”.

Mr Coughlan continued, “As I stated in the Budget Report 2011, Clare County Council is acutely aware of the financial difficulties which our rate payers are experiencing and we are committed to adopting a practical approach in terms of facilitating rate payers.

“However, I must emphasise that if the council does not receive the income which is identified in this draft budget, the maintenance of the levels of services which are planned for 2012 would be impacted.”

Mr Coughlan said that despite ongoing efforts to reduce expenditure and increase income, the projected financial result for 2011 is a € 500k deficit.

“The key variances are as a result of essential works which were undertaken to respond to the adverse weather conditions in early 2011, unexpected costs relating to Traveller accommodation and the increased levels of vacant properties in the county,” he said.


Water treatment plants need more work

FURTHER upgrades are required at wastewater treatment plants in Ennis in order to ensure balanced development of the town, a meeting has heard.

Clare County Council received a grant of permission for the € 2.8 million upgrade of the Clonroadmore wastewater treatment plant from An Bord Pleanála in November.

The development will see the upgrading of the existing wastewater treatment plant from a design capacity of 17,000 population equivalent to a design capacity of 30,150 (pe). The proposed works include (a) an increased storm water storage capacity, (b) the provision of a new clari- fier, (c) the provision of a picket fence thickener (PFT) for sludge treatment and (d) the provision of a tertiary treatment system.

Speaking at Clare County Council’s annual budget meeting, former Mayor of Ennis, councillor Tommy Brennan (Ind) said the town had been waiting for an upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant at Clareabbey since 1995.

Welcoming the development at Clonroadmore, Cllr Brennan said similar progress was required at the Clareabbey facility. He said, “I’d like to see balanced development of the town so the town can develop properly”.

Senior Engineer Sean Ward said the council has prepared a preliminary report on works for Clareabbey. He explained that improvements to the Ennis wastewater network would be carried out on an incremental basis.

Mr Ward told the meeting that approval had been sought for the Clondroadmore plant because it is “overloaded” while capacity at Clareabbey is on a “knife-edge”. He said the council had secured a license from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for Clonroadmore while none is yet in place for Clareabbey.

In a report, Cllr Joe Arkins (FG) stated that two projects costed at € 8.7m will proceed to construction under the council’s 2010-12 Water Services Investment Programme (WSIP). Cllr Arkins, who is Chair- man of the council’s Environmental and Water Services Strategic Policy Committee (SPC), explained that a further five projects will proceed to planning during these years.

Cllr Arkins continued, “Consultant procurement for the Ennis watermain rehabilitation project will be completed in 2011. This project is expected to commence construction in 2012. Close liaison with business and other stakeholders in the town will be required in order that any work carried out does not adversely affect daily running of business.

“The aim of the project is to replace older mains, which either are costing significant amounts to maintain or are causing hydraulic constraint and low pressure and to obtain a saving on lost water within these areas. All service connections on these mains will be replaced.”

Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) said the Council might have to consider introducing water byelaws for commercial and domestic users to prevent leakages from the network.

Cllr Gerry Flynn (Ind) called on the Council to expedite progress of the Shannon sewerage scheme otherwise the town is “going to flowed out of it in sewerage”.

He was also strongly critical of plans to impose water rates on volountary and sports groups. He described the € 450 standing charge as a “hidden stealth charge”.

“We are attacking their very existence,” he added.


Networking the key to growing tourism

THE newly appointed head of the Clare Tourism Forum has singled out co-operation between the county’s tourism providers as the key to Clare unlocking its tourism potential in 2012.

Barbara Faulkner of Aillwee Cave in Ballyvaughan has been appointed the new chairperson of the Clare Tourism Forum. She replaces Joe Russell, general manager of Doon beg Golf Club, who held the position throughout 2011.

“What I would like to see for the coming year and for the future is more networking and coming together of all of the tourism providers within the county. Collaboration is key to moving forward,” she said.

“Tourism is very important to County Clare with huge potential for growth, but we all need to take responsibility for it and to ensure that everyone visiting the county has a memorable experience.

“What I would like to see for the coming year and for the future is more networking and coming together of all of the tourism providers within the county. Collaboration is key to moving forward. Tourism is very important to County Clare with huge potential for growth, but we all need to take responsibility for it and to ensure that everyone visiting the county has a memorable experience.

“I am looking forward to the year ahead and the many challenges that it will present. Since its establishment in 2005, Clare Tourism Forum has been very active in promoting Coun- ty Clare both at home and abroad, and all that hard work and dedication is starting to show. However, we need to continue promoting the message that when it comes to choosing a destination for a holiday or short break County Clare has it all.”

The Clare Tourism Forum was established in 2005 to provide a collaborative approach to tourism pro- motion in County Clare. The forum’s members developed and hosted a number of initiatives aimed at promoting the local tourism sector during 2011.

One of the highlights of the year was the Gala Clare Tourism Networking event which attracted more than 200 Clare tourism providers in May, while more than 400 golfers from around Ireland participated in the second annual Clare Ultimate Golf Challenge.

Tourism operators throughout Clare also took park in educational tours of Clare during March and April. The event was designed to encourage cross promotion and networking among Forum members and the wider business community.


New walking route a boost for North Clare tourism

A MAJOR step forward in promoting North Clare as a top destination for walking tourism was made on Thursday with the announcement that a much-sought-after walking route connecting Liscannor and Doolin will go ahead.

Contract for the restoration of the walking track were signed in Doolin last week with work on the route likely to get underway early in the new year.

Walking tourism has been heralded by many as the possible saviour of the tourism industry in Clare.

In 2009, walking tourism passed out both golfing and surfing to become the activity which attract most tourists to County Clare.

Both walking and cycling have seen a renaissance for holiday-makers in recent years and it is hoped that the restoration of the 12.7 kilometres route between Doolin and Liscannor will help to put Clare on the global map for walking tourists.

The path has been earmarked for experienced walkers and will take walkers along the iconic Cliffs of Moher from Doolin to Hags Head, and then on minor roads into the village of Liscannor. The project has been made possible as a result of 39 private landowners who have pledged to support project.

“The upgrading of this coastal path will offer a unique perspective on coastal walking along an area of land that is world renowned,” said Eimer McCarthy of Clare Local Development Company (CLDC).

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the agencies involved and especially to thank the landowners for their time and support until now, and in the coming months, during the upgrading works.”

Seventy five per cent of the funding for the initiative is being provided by Fáilte Ireland under the National Development Plan 2007 to 2013 with the balance being funded by Clare County Council and Shannon Development.

Clare Local Development Company secured the involvement of local landowners in the project, which is being supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The successful contractor for the project is County Wexford-based Metro Building Contractors, while Burren Way Ltd will manage the walk when it is completed in April 2012.

“We have been challenged to make the Burren Way a world-class walking route and following other significant developments on the route in recent years the addition of the Clare Coastal Walk will go a long way towards achieving our goal,” said Gerard Kennedy, Chairman of Burren Way.


Campaign for Clare Gaeltacht status launched

A NEWcampaign to secure Gaeltacht status for Clare has been launched ten years after breac-Gaeltacht designation was taken away from many parts of the western seaboard.\.

The newly formed Clare Gaeltacht Committee is spearheading this drive as part of what it has called a campaign “to revitalize and strengthen further Irish in county Clare”.

Kilmihil-based Seosamh Mac Ionnrachtaigh is one of the main drivers of the initiative, which earlier this year saw him make a submission to the Draft County Development Plan 2011-2017, which called on Clare County Council to play its part in promoting the language.

Now, the new language revival campaign has bee cranked up with the announcement of a four-month consultation process between now and the end of April has been flagged by the Clare Gaeltacht Committee.

“In the context of language planning, the people of Clare and the general public are invited to send electronic or written submissions for Plean na Gaeilge 2012-2017 in Clare that will identify what needs to be done for Irish in the county,” said Mr Mac Ionnrachtaigh.

“We intend seeking Gaeltacht sta tus for the people of County Clare in the near future. To that end a new language plan for the county is going to be formed as part of revitalizing the language in the county and getting back the Gaeltacht status that was taken away many years ago,” he added.

In his submission to the county development plan, Mr Mac Ionnrachtaigh said “the future of the Irish language in the county is important in economic, social, infrastructural, cultural and environmental terms”. He also said “the establishment of Gaeltacht status should be recognised in the Draft County Development Plan”.

“In relation to establishing a Gaeltacht in the county, this is not within the remit of the County De- velopment Plan,” responded county manager, Tom Coughlan. “The responsibility for establishing new Gaeltachtaí lies with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and not with the local authority.”

Clare enjoyed breac-Gaeltacht status from 1929 to 2001, with the biggest Irish-speaking districts being near Ballyvaughan, Doolin, Kilkee and Carrigaholt were the Irish College operated by Macdara Tóibín is located.


Anxious wait for expats in Korea

THE growing Clare expat population in South Korea is waiting with baited breath to see will any military action take place as a result of the death of North Korea dictator Kim Jong-il. Corofin man Maccon-Fionn McNamara is one of more than a dozen Clare people who are currently living in the South Korean city of Daegu.

As South Korea’s third largest city and the site of both a South Korean and American military base, Daegu would be a centre of activity if any live conflict emerges as a result of the transfer of power in North Korea. Maccon-Fionn works as an English teacher in Daegu, alongside fellow Clare natives Aidan O’Donoghue from Ennis, Alex Whyatt from Ennis, Maura Crawford from Inagh and Stephen and Mark Milliken.

“The main fear here at the moment is the possible consequences of a power vacuum. It is a domestic thing with different sanctions who will be vying for the power in the coming weeks. The worst thing that could happen is that, in an effort to show some sort of unity behind Kim Jongun, they could make some threatening actions toward South Korea. It has happened before. They find a way to blame the South and in that way to unify the country,” he said.

“The military here has been put on full alert and the war council was convened and they are also monitoring against cyber attacks coming over from the North. A missile was test fired on the day that Kim Jong-il died but they are saying that that is unrelated.

“At this stage, it is really a case of wait and see. They have lived with the threat over here for 60 years and now it is almost like a fact of life. I think maybe the older people are more concerned. They have experienced open war before and they know what it is like to have their lives and their families torn apart – it is not the same for the younger people.”

As it happens, Maccon-Fionn was on a trip to the DMZ, the demilitarized zone which borders North and South Korea, when Kim Jong-il died.

“There is an airbase in Daegu and I have heard a lot more activity coming from that, whether it be training exercises or something else. There is a lot more military traffic in the air.

“There is also a US military base here called Camp Walker where a lot of US soldiers are based, but it seems like that is mostly as-youwere, with a lot of training exercises going on.

“I was actually in the DMZ last week around the time that he died, but that is a total coincidence, I swear,” he said.


Ennis to bid for Fleadh 2013

DESPITE narrowly losing out on the right to host the 2012 Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann, Ennis is expected to bid for the 2013 event.

Despite preparing a bid that was described as “exceptional and impressive” by the director of Comhaltas, Labhrás O Murchú, Ennis lost out on the right to stage to 2012 Fleadh to Cavan.

In doing so the town also lost out on a potential € 20 million windfall, which organisers say would have been generated by the festival.

Just one vote separated the rival bids with Cavan securing Ireland’s largest festival of traditional music and dance for a third successive year.

Despite that disappointment it is now thought that the Fleadh working group are renewing their efforts to bring the country’s largest festival of traditional, music, dance and song back to Ennis for the first time since 1977.

Town manager Ger Dollard said last week that it is understood that Ennis will bid for the Fleadh in 2013. Mr Dollard said a decision on the matter would be taken by the end of January.

If Ennis does enter the race then it will face stiff competition from Derry with organisers there hoping to capitalize on the city’s status as the 2013 City of Culture.

The Ennis bid was presented to Comhaltas officials at the headquarters of Clare County Council in April.

The presentation was backed by a network of organisations including local authorities, Shannon Development, the Vintner’s Federation of Ireland, local business groups, the GAA, the Gardaí and the emergency services.

The working group’s proposal document stated that 200,000 people would visit Ennis during the event.

The document identified 25 venues where events could be held while the working group said that Ennis town centre would be pedestrianised during the course of the week-long festival.

The working group also identified fifteen proposed camping sites in and around Ennis, which will facilitate over 800 tents and in excess of 250 camper vans.

New technology and all aspects of social media would be embraced under the bid to create the first iFleadh.

The decision to award the Fleadh to Cavan and Derry’s frontrunner status for 2013 provoked strong criticism from local politicians.

In October, the Mayor of Ennis, Cllr Michael Guilfoyle (Ind), cast doubts on Ennis’s prospects of staging the Fleadh in 2013 or 2014, claiming he had been told that “Derry had it” during a visit to this year’s festival in Cavan.

Last week, Cllr Christy Curtin (Ind), who was Mayor of Clare when the Ennis bid was launched, expressed his disappointment that the town had lost out.


Justice for life’s work of dead husband

SEEKING justice for her husband’s life’s work was behind the successful High Court action taken by Ballyvaughan woman Grace Daveron that saw her awarded almost € 1.6m last Wednesday.

Mr Justice Iarf hlaith Ó Neill awarded Ms Daveron € 1,591,957.70 in damages because of the loss of an expected inheritance of a 623-acre farm.

The Daverons also ran a 269-acre farm in Ballycahill, adjoining the Ballyalben farm.

The mother-of-four from The Barn, Ballyalben, Ballyvaughan claimed she lost out on the inheritance of her husband Michael’s family farm.

She had sued the HSE following the death of her husband Michael on August 31, 2003, at University College Hospital, Galway. The 47-year-old died as a result of negligence in his treatment for colitis at the hospital in 2003.

Ms Daveron successfully claimed in the High Court that because of her husband’s death at University College Hospital Galway, she and her children missed out on the inheritance of Michael Davoren family’s 623-acre farm in the Burren.

Mr Justice Ó Neill rejected an argument by the defendants that it was probably the falling out between Grace Davoren and her mother-inlaw that had caused them to lose out on the inheritance of the estate.

He said that even if the falling out was the cause of Maura Davoren changing her will, this was directly due a change in her state of mind caused by her son’s wrongful death.

He added that he was satisfied Michael Davoren’s dependents would have inherited the estate of Maura Davoren if it wasn’t for his wrongful death.

After the verdict, Ms Davoren said “the point of taking this case was to obtain justice for my husband Michael and recognition of his life’s work and also to provide for his four children as he would have wished”.


Demand for beds in shelter ‘overwhelming’

MANAGEMENT at the Ennis homeless hostel say 2011 has been the busiest year since it opened almost three years ago with demand for places described as “overwhelming”.

The Hostel at Laurel Lodge on the Clare Road provides emergency accommodation and care for homeless men.

The-13 bed facility is operated by St Vincent de Paul with funding from Clare County Council and the Health Services Executive (HSE).

Speaking on Friday, Laurel Lodge Manager Patrick Cahill said there had been a 96 per cent occupancy rate at the hostel in 2011. “We are busy, this has been our busiest year. We’ve had a 96 per cent occupancy rate, which meant we were nearly full every night.”

Mr Cahill continued, “It got to a stage where we would fix someone up with a flat or a room somewhere, they would move out, and the next day the bed would be gone again.”

Mr Cahill said there had been “consistent” demand for places at Laurel Lodge throughout the year. “The demand is quite overwhelming,” he added.

Mr Cahill said the St Vincent de Paul have been amazed at the level generous support given to the hostel.

He explained, “The amount of support, not just financial, but people just helping out, has been amazing. Honestly, people have been great.”

According to its 2012 budget report, Clare County Council provides financial assistance to Laurel Lodge under Section 10 funding where 90 per cent is recouped. The council estimates that € 365,000 will be spent on homelessness services in 2012.

The report states, “The council also works in partnership with the HSE to deliver other homelessness services such as sourcing private rented ac- commodation, assisting with completion of rent supplement applications and seeking B&B accommodation. Approximately 700 applicants will have been assisted in 2011.”

The report continues, “A Regional Audit of Services to identify gaps in service provision to the homeless is now nearing completion. In 2012, regional and local actions plans will be developed to address the gaps identified in the audit. A Clare Homelessness Alliance, representative of bodies and agencies involved in the provision of services to the homeless, will be set up in early 2012 to assist this work.”