COUNCILLORS in West Cork are refusing to believe administrative assurances that the region is fully staffed.
Cllr Joe Carroll (FF) put the lengthy debate at a recent meeting of the Western Division in context when he said he feared he’d be asked – like some bold boy – to ‘go and stand against the wall’ for daring to raise the issue.
The topic arose when Cllr Danny Collins (Ind) bluntly declared: ‘We need more outdoor staff.’
The Bantry-based councillor had highlighted the fact that some Council employees are being asked to travel from Sheep’s Head to Bandon, or from Bantry to Coachford, to do a day’s work.
‘It’s costing them €60 to €70 a week in diesel to travel to work. People should be taken on in their own area,’ he said.
‘In comparison with the rest of the county,’ Padraig Barrett, the Council’s director of roads and transportation, said, ‘West Cork is more than staffed.’
He surmised that the councillors really meant to refer to ‘resources’ and the financial cost of road maintenance rather than actual manpower. ‘I can guarantee you it is not a staffing issue,’ he said, ‘it’s a resources issue.’
Padraig Barrett reminded the councillors that 30 new employees had been taken on in Cork county in 2019, and 15 more would be added this year.
Cllr Paul Hayes (SF) claimed: ‘None of them came our way,’ while others challenged Mr Barrett’s assurances, and his explanation that the Council has ‘changed how we work.’ Cllr Hayes said: ‘Tidy Towns committees feel that they are picking up the slack, especially after weather events like Storm Dennis.
‘The man on the ground would have had the drains cleared, but now it is Tidy Towns volunteers who are doing those jobs,’ he said.
Cllr Gillian Coughlan (FF) asked about the possibility of overtime being paid to existing workers to assist hard-pressed communities, but Mr Barrett said that was not an option. Cllr Declan Hurley (Ind) suggested that Council workers could be deployed on a seasonal basis to assist community with maintenance work around their towns and villages because, at present, he said: ‘They feel like they are being abandoned because the man on the ground is gone.’
Mr Barrett said he was aware that community groups are working harder and doing more but both he and the divisional manager, Clodagh Henehan, said the Council was also doing its part by working with community groups, improving approach roads, and enhancing public realm works.
Cllr Kevin Murphy (FG) said he too is being ‘inundated with calls from people who say the level of Council workers is lower than ever before.’
He said it was their duty, as public representatives, to bring up staffing issues.
Cllr Murphy claimed: ‘Staff numbers are down substantially: before, people felt there was a good workforce that they could call on, but that’s not there now.’
The divisional manager reminded the councillors that ‘staffing is an executive function – and it has to be left to the management structure to decide how the staff are deployed.’
She also made the point: ‘We are coming out of a deep recession’ and suggested that the issue should be raised again at the pre-budget meeting.