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.


Household charge a ‘burden’ on councils

THE planned introduction of the household charge has been dismissed as “just another burden” on local authorities.

The comment was made by Green Party councillor, Brian Meaney last week at Ennis Town Council’s annual budget meeting.

Details of the charge are contained in a circular issued to the council from the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

In it, Colm Lavery, Principal Officer, Local Government Finance Section states that the Government is introducing a household charge to meet the requirements of the EU/ IMF programme of financial support for Ireland.

He continued, “The household charge is an interim measure and proposals for a full property tax will be considered by the Government in due course. The Exchequer contribution to the Local Government Fund has been replaced by the income from the household charge for 2012.”

The plans were criticised by Cllr Meaney who told the meeting that the charge would have a negative effect on local authority finances.

He said there would be a net loss in central government funding to the council.

Describing it as a burden, Cllr Meaney said, “This is the last of a long list of straws placed on this camel’s back.”

He was sharply critical of a section of the circular that highlights Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan views on the need for continued reduction in commercial rates.

Mr Lavery writes, “The General Purpose Grant allocation continues to provide a very significant contribution towards the current expenditure needs of your authority for 2012. As part of a range of measures to aid economic recovery, the minister is clear on the need for continued reductions in commercial rates over the coming years and again requests that local authorities exercise restraint in setting commercial rates and local charges for 2012, in order to support competitiveness in the economy, nationally and locally, and to protect the interests of communities. Local authorities have responded positively to previous requests for restraint and, in light of the current, challenging environment for business, it is strongly urged that this restraint be continued.”

Cllr Meaney said Ennis Town Council has always exercised restraint and did not need to be told to do so by the Government.

On rates, he said the minister had used “loose language” in the circular, adding, “We’e not burdening the business community.”

He said national government had “foisted” an unfair system of funding on local authorities that left overly reliant on rates for income.

“I completely reject the language used in the circular, he added.

Cllr Tommy Brennan (Ind) said the council needs income from rates and parking charges.

He said, “Our hands have been tied and have been tied for a long number of years.”

Cllr Frankie Neylon (Ind) said he wished the council could reduce rates but in the current economic climate such thinking was “only a fools paradise”.


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.


Town sculpture initiative to slow down for 2012

ENNIS Town Council has announced a reduction in spending on the town’s sculpture initiative saying it is not possible to fund new pieces next year.

The measure was announced as part of Ennis Town Council’s budget for 2012, which was adopted last week.

In his annual report, town manager Ger Dollard stated that three major sculpture initiatives were progressed during 2011.

He explained, “The relocation of Icarus to the Rocky Road roundabout; the installation of the Information Age Town Sculpture at Clon Road Park and the commencement of preparatory work for a major piece at the market roundabout were also advanced.”

Mr Dollard continued, “The completion of these three projects is a very significant addition to the over- all Ennis Sculpture Trail. The budget provision for 2012 does not provide for any new pieces. The provision made will assist in maintaining the extensive sculpture trail that is now in place.”

Mr Dollard told the meeting that it is not possible to provide funding for new or additional pieces.

Councillor Johnny Flynn (FG) said the council had significantly invested in public art initiatives such as the Wallcandy project.

He said Ennis is one of the bestserved towns per square kilometre for sculpture in Ireland.

He said the council made a huge commitment to cultural and community-based initiatives. Mr Dollard told the meeting that the council would increase its provision for priming grants next year.

He explained, “The council reviewed its Priming Grants Scheme during 2011 and introduced funding bands for different sized estates. The council met all applications received as it is vitally important that such partnership arrangements are encouraged and maintained so that the town can be presented to the best possible standard for residents and visitors alike.”

He added, “I have increased the provision for the priming grants scheme in 2012 to € 18,000 to assist community groups undertaking valuable works in maintaining and improving their estates. Contributions are again provided in the draft budget for Ennis Brass Band, Ennis Book Club Festival, Ennis Trad Music Festival, Ennis Fashion Week and Promote Ennis.”

Cllr Mary Coote Ryan (FG) said it had been a “wonderful year” and that at a time of recession, the council had made a number of significant achievements.

“Even though things are tough, we keep motoring on for next year,” she 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.


2020 project questioned

QUESTIONS have been raised over the influence a community research project might have on the future development of Ennis. The first phase of ‘Ennis 2020 – People, Place, Potential’ was launched in Ennis in November. The community visioning exercise is the product of a joint initiative between Ennis Town Council and University of Limerick. The main objective of the project is to support the development of a participatory plan for Ennis as a hub town in line with the National Spatial Strategy. The opinions of over 300 people were canvassed including those of 30 young people.

The project’s report presents perspectives on what local people think Ennis will look and feel like in 2020; the strengths and assets on which it can build; how the image of Ennis might be improved and how Ennis might be developed further as an inclusive town.

In a report presented at the council’s annual budget meeting, town manager Ger Dollard states, “Further work has been done on this project and three working groups have been established to assess the outcome of the consultation process and distill information and ideas generated down to an overall strategy for Ennis as a hub town.”

Speaking at last week’s meeting, councillor Peter Considine (FF) asked how the project was being funded. He said the project’s approach appeared to be a “very broad brush” for the future planning of Ennis. He said he would not like to see an advisory group determining Council policy.

Town clerk Leonard Cleary said three working groups had been established through the Ennis Municipal Policy Committee. The meeting heard that the groups do not have a budget.

Mayor of Ennis, Cllr Michael Guilfoyle (Ind) said the group operated on an advisory basis and potential decisions would have to be “rubber stamped” by the council. Mr Dollard also announced a reduction in the council’s budget for twinning initiatives from € 9,000 in 2011 to € 5,000 in 2012.

He added, “Invitations have been ex tended to Ennis’ sister town in Phoenix, Arizona, through Ennis Phoenix Twinning Board for a formal visit to Ennis in 2013. Arrangements are also being made through the Twinning Board to have participation of a band from Phoenix in the Ennis St Patrick’s Day Parade 2013.


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.


It’s a very jetset Christmas for Siobhan

ENNIS WOMAN Siobhan Keane is spending Christmas in Dubai, having moved there 12 years ago. Siobhan is enjoying the festive season with her Dublin-born husband Karl, having fulfilled her dream to move overseas.

“I always wanted to travel, I remember one time when I was around 10 years old showing my sister a photograph in the world book encyclopedia of Cairo city centre, saying, ‘I’m gonna live there someday’……Little did I know it was going to be somewhere very near there,” recalled Siobhan.

“I suppose the writing was on the wall when I won a set of suitcases a year later. I asked my parents after I left college would it be okay to head off to Australia for a year. The reply was a very firm ‘No’. Anyway, when you have an itch it has to be scratched and a few years later, when sitting in my office in NUI Galway in the Accountancy and Finance Department, I heard Colm McLoughlin from Dubai on the radio talking about Dubai,” she said. “Now this took my interest. I had always seen the ads in the glossy magazines at the hairdressers talking about Dubai, the most cosmopolitan city in the Arabian Gulf, so I listened in. To cut a long story short, within the week I had been in contact with Colm and had arranged jobs for my friend Patricia Walsh and I at ‘The Irish Village’ in Dubai. Tickets were booked, visas arranged and the itinerary sent over. I was extremely excited, but this was only my short-term plan… Once over there I wanted to go for an interview with Emirates Airline and start air hostessing and travelling all over the world,” she said.

Despite some anxiety at home, particularly from Siobhán’s parents, she headed to Shannon Airport on August 21, 1999, and her trip took off.

“For all of about two minutes I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I applied for Emirates and got accepted and started flying in June of 2000. It has been an amazing experience and I have been travelling the world since, from places as far afield as Christchurch, New Zealand, at one end of the world and Sao Paulo in Brazil at the other end.

“The friends I have made have been amazing and the experiences invaluable to me. Along the way I have met many Irish people and with them many Clare people also. At the Irish village there was Brian O’Dwyer from Bodyke and Dermot Geoghegan from Mountshannon. I met Helen McCarthy from Ballyvaughan in Emirates and we became friends almost straight away. Herself and Dermot got married and they are settled in Ennis now with two beautiful daughters. There is a guy here called Will Moroney from Corofin and I met him through his fiance Fiona Devlin, who is from Perth and also Emirates Cabin Crew,” she said.

Six years ago, when Siobhan was considering moving home, she met Karl Tilson from Donnybrook in Dublin in the Dubliner Irish pub in Dubai. “I joke that he ruined my plans to go home but we both couldn’t be happier. We had our wedding in the Cathedral in Ennis and the Temple Gate Hotel in June 2009 with 30 guests flying over from Dubai to see our beautiful country,” she said.

Although Siobhan will spend Christmas in her adopted country, her family will be very much in her thoughts.

“This year I arrive back from London Gatwick on Christmas Eve morning… We haven’t had an Irish Christmas in six years so we really hope to be at home for it next year, as it is never the same when you are not at home. Having said that, if I didn’t have Karl here with me it would be much more difficult. New Year’s Eve we will go to Abu Dhabi to see Coldplay and the new year isn’t starting out too bad for me as I get to take the first ever flight out of Dublin Airport with Emirates on January 9, so I’m very excited about that. You can’t beat the Irish Christmas with family and friends, but please God in the future when we come back home we will have many more Irish Christmases to come,” she said.

Siobhan extends Christmas greetings to her family; her parents Stephanie and Francie on the Golf Links Road in Ennis, her sisters Shauna and Ashling and brothers Ronan and Barry.


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.


From Korea to Corofin for Christmas Day

WHEN North Clare man MacconFionn McNamara touched down in Shannon Airport earlier this week, he returned to a land where Christmas is king. After spending his last festive season in South Korea, the Corofin native was looking forward to all the home comforts that he missed last year.

Maccon-Fionn has been living in the city of Daegu in South Korea for the past two years. For the workobsessed people of South Korea, Christmas is a very different kind of holiday than what he was used to at home.

“There are decorations put up but only in the major, built-up shopping districts. Culturally it is not seen as a big deal” he said. “It is almost a totally commercial thing over here. There is nothing like carolling or any of the traditions that you would associate with Christmas. I would seriously doubt that many people would even have a Christmas tree in their apartment. I think it is the little things that you expect to see around Christmas, they just aren’t there.

“This country is very work-oriented – they don’t get that much time off and they generally work around the clock. Christmas is only a one-day holiday over here so everyone will be back to work on Stephen’s Day.”

With a growing Irish population in South Korea, Maccon-Fionn was able to come together with some fellow Irish men and women and celebrate Christmas Day last year. He shared the holiday with fellow Clare people Aidan O’Donoghue from Ennis, Alex Whyatt from Ennis, Maura Crawford from Inagh as well as Stephen and Mark Milliken.

“There is a good-sized Irish population over here and we come together to have Christmas dinner. There was good camaraderie, everyone made a special effort because we were not with our families,” he continued.

“We managed to track down some pre-cooked turkey and we all made a real effort to make it like home – I think we made a pretty good fist of it. But the atmosphere outside just wasn’t the same. We were making a bit of noise and having a little fun and some of the locals called the police on us and complained about the noise. They really don’t do the boisterous celebration that we would be used to. A lot of drink was flowing on the day, which we thought was perfectly normal, but the locals didn’t know what to make of us.”

Last Christmas was also Maccon- Fionn’s first Christmas spent away from his family in North Clare.

“Of course I missed my family on Christmas Day, but not as much as you would think. It’s the era of Skype and so on so I was able to call them and see them and talk to them. That was nice. We were all in the same boat over here as well, it was a shared experience and that was a help. Some people were feeling bad about it but I think when you’ve spent 24 or 25 Christmasses at home that something like this is just a new experience. The reason I wanted to come home this year was to have that coming-homefor-Christmas experience. If I wasn’t able to come home this year for some reason, I don’t think I would have been devastated by it.”