THE re-elected chairman of the Western Division of Cork County Council has complained that the local authority is giving money to tidy towns committees, ‘a bunch of retired people.’
Cllr Joe Carroll wasn’t criticising the volunteers, or being ageist, he was being critical of the Council for not doing enough of the region’s maintenance work and leaving it to community groups instead.
He said tidy towns groups all over West Cork work hard to enhance their area but ‘they should not be asked to do county work.’
The FF councillor claimed there has been ‘an imbalance’ in the work load for the last 10 to 12 years with an ‘over-emphasis’ on tidy towns committees doing grass cutting, weed pulling and general maintenance – jobs that used to be the responsibility of the local authority.
He made the point that ‘Clonakilty win awards for floral designs and tidy towns’ and said ‘congratulations to them,’ but he pointed out that Clonakilty has a staff of ‘four full-time employees that never leave the town’ compared to the one Council operative in Skibbereen who is sent all over the place.
Why, he asked, is the Skibbereen employee being sent to Rosscarbery – which is six miles from Clonakilty and 14 miles from Skibbereen – as well as having to carry out other duties in places like Baltimore?
‘Pulling weeds off the footpaths,’ he suggested, ‘used to be done by Council workers. Now, in places, grass growth has gone to hay. We have a mower in the Council yard but we need the workers to use it.’
Cllr Carroll said the members are being told that the Council has ‘the same figures as 10-15 years ago, but 70% of our staff has gone to Irish Water – they are not working for the Council anymore.’
For months, councillors from across the political spectrum, have been complaining about the drop in the number of outdoor staff and they claim people who retire are not being replaced and say this represents a cost saving to the Council.
‘This nonsense will have to stop,’ said Cllr Carroll, ‘we must not depend on the tidy towns volunteers to do Council work.
He estimated that Skibbereen gets between €6,000 and €7,000 of a contribution from the Council for its annual programme but said what is actually needed is more outdoor staff.
‘We are going to have to address this issue once and for all,’ he added. ‘Bantry has a few operatives and a good tidy towns committee but they must not be asked to do Council work either.’
Cllr Deirdre Kelly (FF) agreed saying, ‘We have been asking for the staff list for so long. I can’t see the problem in getting that list.
‘There is no one in Ballineen and Enniskeane and in Dunmanway plans to replace public seating had to be cancelled this year because there isn’t the resources,’ she said.
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) said the low number of workers has been raised on numerous occasions but the Council executive keeps telling them ‘it’s not up for discussion.’
He suggested that the issue be discussed in private if necessary. ‘Kinsale is booming but there are gross deficiencies too,’ he claimed. ‘The town has deteriorated since the town council ceased. There’s dereliction and subsidence in the roads. The town has to get extra personnel.’
The divisional county manager, Clodagh Henehan told the members that anything to do with ‘additional resources’ is something that needs to be addressed through the budgetary process.
She noted that every year, such as the war in Ukraine, there is ‘something that deflects some of our time and our focus,’ but she said the councillors’ requests could be considered in preparing for the 2023 budget.
The manager said she would also raise the matter with the Council’s director of roads and he could provide them with an updated report and information ‘about how the staff is structured throughout the county.’
Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) said he believes there are 357 outdoor staff on the Council’s books. What the councillors want to know, he added, is a breakdown of where they are deployed throughout the county.