News & Current Issues
Here are some of the current issues.
AT IT’S MONTHLY meeting Sligo County Council adopted a motion from Councillor Declan Bree, calling on the County Manager to provide a report outlining the authority he had to authorise County Council subsidies to Sligo Borough Council.
Addressing the meeting Cllr Bree said, “At last month’s meeting the County Manager stated that this Council had not been charging the Borough Council the full cost of services provided to the Borough each year and he indicated that the County Council has been subsidising the Borough Council to the tune of approximately €700,000 a year.
“Given that the finances of the Borough Council are in a healthy state and given that Sligo County Council is almost bankrupt I was astonished and amazed to hear the County Manager say that the County Council has been subsidising the Borough Council.
“And I have to say that members of the public found the story incredible.
“Taking into consideration that the revenue deficit of the County Council is growing by millions of Euro each year why would the County Council subsidise the Borough Council? It doesn’t make any sense.
“If such a subsidy was provided I am anxious to know what authority the County Manager had to provide the subsidy.
“Members of the Council will be aware that decisions of the elected Council are made by way of resolutions adopted at Council meetings; and decisions of the County Manager are made by way of written Manager’s Orders.
“I was always of the view that decisions relating to Council expenditure was a reserved function of the elected councillors. Yet, I do not remember the elected Councillors every making a decision to subsidise the Borough Council. I have checked back through the minutes of Council meetings and I cannot find reference to any such decision being taken by the elected Council.” said Cllr Bree.
Cllr Bree proposed then proposed that the Council request the Manager to provide (a) a written report outlining the statutory authority he had to provide the subsidy (b) copies of the relevant Manager’s Orders relating to the decision to provide the subsidy to the Borough Council. His motion was seconded by Cllr Sean Mac Manus and was unanimously adopted.
THE COUNCILLORS WHO voted to impose the County Council’s austerity budget do not have a mandate to do so and they have betrayed the interests of many of those who voted for them, said Cllr Declan Bree when he addressed a meeting of the United Left Alliance in Sligo.
“Despite the fact that the Council had been provided with increased funding by the Department of the Environment, the Fine Gael, Labour and the independent labour Chairperson of the Council Cllr Veronica Cawley, voted to impose the most savage cut- backs ever witnessed at Council level in Sligo.” said Cllr Bree.
“The decision to slash funding for grants for the disabled cannot be justified under any circumstances and the decision to cut the housing aid for the elderly schemes by 40% will leave many older people without the supports they require
“The vote to remove funding and support for community groups, arts and heritage organisations, and groups promoting tourism will have far reaching implications.
“The decision to slash the maintenance budget for council houses by 75% while at the same time increasing rent income by 12.5% tells its own story. Council tenants will be expected to pay rents amounting to €2.25million while only €100,000 will be invested in maintaining the housing stock. It would appear that the surplus funding will be used to pay senior officials and to pay off banks loans.” Cllr Bree said.
“Funding for recreational development, for parks, pitches and open spaces has also been cut to the bone.
“The decision to slash the library book fund to a miserly €10,000 will decimate the public library service in Sligo. This type of cut in the library service would not be accepted anywhere else in Ireland. Libraries are a cultural resource of universal benefit yet the service in Sligo has been targeted by the philistines in Fine Gael and Labour.
“While these savage cuts are being imposed millions of euros from the Council’s budget are being diverted to pay interest on huge loans which the same councillors foolishly voted for in recent years.
“In July 2010, the County Manager asked the members of the Council to authorise borrowing of €18 million by way of a term loan of €15 million and a temporary overdraft of €3 million. Councillors were told then that the main reasons for the loan and overdraft totaling €18 million was because there was an accumulated deficit on the revenue account of €7.5 million and that there was expenditure of approx €10 million on capital related activity that awaited funding. The majority of councillors voted for the County Manages proposal.
“However despite the fact that the Council borrowed the money to clear the €7.5 million deficit in 2010 it was discovered last year that not one cent of the deficit was cleared.
“Yet these councillors continue to dance to the County Managers tune. Only two months ago the same councillors voted to take out yet another loan, this time a sum of €7.5 million, to replace overdraft borrowings which they had actually increased by that stage to the banks overdraft limit of €7.5 million. It never stops.
“Now the Fine Gael and Labour councillors and the Independent labour Chairperson of the Council are imposing savage cutbacks so as to allow Council funds to be diverted to pay off interest on loans that were clearly unsustainable and should never have been sought.
“When those councillors went forward for election they talked about improving and extending council services. In the period since the election they have performed U-turn after U-turn. They have accepted levels of ineptitude and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in any other local authority in Ireland and they have reduced the level of Council services in this county to an all time low. They have betrayed the trust of the people” said Cllr Bree.
“THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT Auditors Statutory Report for 2011, released this week, is a damning indictment of the manner in which Sligo County Council manages its financial business and it clearly confirms what I have been saying about the management of the Council, said Cllr Declan Bree.
The Auditor Mr Raymond Lavin, in his report expresses concerns in relation to the financial performance of the Council and in regard to the financial standing of the Council and its increasing level of debt.
“Not only has the auditor confirmed that the Council’s revenue deficit increased by an alarming 30% last year - to almost €13 million - he also went on to say that in his opinion the deficit figure was actually understated in the Council’s accounts.” said Cllr Bree.
“Comparing the Council’s budget with the actual outturn the Auditor has pointed out that the expenditure by the Council in 2011 was significantly higher than that provided for in the budget.
“He said the Council needs to prepare realistic achievable budgets and these budgets need to be carefully monitored and implemented. Indeed he said the same in his reports in 2009 and 2010. But no one seems to be listening.
“The auditor has again this year complained about an insufficient audit trail in relation to a number of Council projects and he also complains that the Council’s registers of lands and buildings have not been properly maintained.
“The fact that the Council purchased an interest in property in Ballymote for the sum of €100,000 without any valuation or without any formal agreement being drawn up in accordance with regulations and guidelines is indicative of the manner in which the Council management transacts its affairs
“An area of particular concern relates to the recent Financial Appraisal of the Council carried out earlier this year by a firm of private consultants. According to the Auditors Report the consultants were advised by Council management that the Council would break even this year. However he points out that the unaudited accounts for the first half of 2012 indicate a deficit of €1.5 million for the first six months.
“What is particularly amazing is the revelation that a sum of €4 million which Management included in last years Council budget as income, was nothing less than pure fantasy.
“According to the County Manger it was assumed that there would be €4 million savings arising through a voluntary redundancy package and redeployment, and it was decided to show the financial impact of this as income of €4 million in the Council budget. Where else but in Sligo could such a preposterous budget be concocted.” said Cllr Bree
“To add insult to injury everyone of us including the dogs on the street knew there was no possibility whatsoever of the government introducing a voluntary redundancy scheme.
“The Council is now over €80 million in debt and is it any wonder? For the past number of years the County Manager has consistently asked councillors to adopt annual budgets that were based on fantasy, budgets that bore no resemblance to reality, budgets that were absurd and unattainable, budgets that led to massive deficits in the revenue account each year. And to make up for the shortfall each year the County Manger then urged councillors to take out loans and increase overdrafts.
“Unfortunately the majority of councillors dance to the County Managers tune and they have constantly voted for budgets which have undermined the council’s financial viability.
"It should now be obvious to most people that what is happening in terms of the finances of the Council is not only unacceptable, it is unsustainable.” Cllr Bree said.
THE GOVERNMENT HAS indicated that the property tax, due to replace the household charge, will be introduced next July. The property tax is just another name for a tax on people’s homes, the United Left Alliance T.D. Joan Collins told a public meeting organised by the Sligo Campaign against the Household and Water Charges in the Glasshouse Hotel this week.
“The fact that the tax is due to be introduced next July is about the only thing that is definite at this point.” said Deputy Collins, “Everything else will be announced as part of the Budget. The tax initially is likely to range from €250 to €400 a year. It will increase significantly in the following years.”
“Everywhere anger against the inequality and injustice of the present economic system is exploding. In this context the national Campaign against the Household and Water Charges has spurred new forms of struggle and every day more and more people are joining the resistance against austerity
“€25 billion has been taken out of our economy in the last 5 budgets and has devastated our country. The IMF says that every Euro taken out of the Irish economy results in an effective cut of €1.70. In this context it is clear that austerity is not working.” said Deputy Collins.
Sligo Councillor Declan Bree told the meeting “The campaign against the household and water charges has built up significant resistance to the governments proposals since the beginning of the year.
“Everywhere the message is clear; people cannot and will not pay the debts of bankers and property developers
“The household charge is essentially an interim measure that will be replaced by a fully fledged property tax on the family home in the forthcoming budget. People should be made aware that registering for the household charge identifies homeowners and acknowledges liability.
“The household charge and the property tax on the family home are being imposed at the behest of the EU and IMF who insist that the monies raised by the tax will be used to pay off the private debts of the speculators, the developers, the bankers and the bondholders – the very people who have brought our country to the edge of ruin.
“The household charge, the septic tank charge, the universal social charge, the ongoing cuts in health and public services, the new property tax on the family home and the new water tax are in essence a form of collective punishment against the great majority of Irish people who are being forced by government to pay the private debts of speculators, developers and bankers.” Cllr Bree told the meeting.
Dr Brian O'Boyle who also addressed the meeting said "Each year the Irish state pays over €10 billion in interest payments. This money is robbed from the people through cuts and tax hikes.
"The only reason this scandalous state of affairs persists is that the European Central Bank ordered us to stuff private banks full of cash so that they could pay off debts to the European banks.
"The Troika never had any interest in helping the Irish people – they only wanted to shore up a dysfunctional EU financial system.
"These debts should all be cancelled. They are crippling Irish society and we should no longer suffer." Dr O'Boyle said.
THE GOVERNMENT PROPOSALS on local government including the proposal to abolish urban based councils was described as a retrograde step by Councillor Declan Bree when he spoke on the matter at meetings of the Borouhc council and County Council this month
"The proposal to abolish town councils and local self government in Irish towns is a retrograde step." he said "I am aware that the government wants to divert taxpayers money to pay off the private debts of bankers, developers and bondholders, but there is no evidence to show that the abolition of town government will save money; in fact it will further reduce the level of accountability in the entire administration of local government. This is at a time when we particularly need accountability, openness and transparency
"Recognising that the purpose of local government is to promote the well being and quality of life of citizens and communities, through effective, accountable and democratic representation and efficient performance and delivery of services at a local level I have to say, that in common with many other local elected representatives I was extremely disappointed with the proposals on local government put forward by Minister Hogan and the government and particularly with the failure to devolve any additional real power to local government.
"Instead of the devolution of powers from central to local government this government is further weakening local self government in this county." said Cllr Bree.
"The decision to reduce the number of councils to 31 means that in Ireland there will be a council for every 145,000 citizens. In Luxembourg there is a council for every 4,200 citizens; in Belgium there is a council for every 18,000 citizens; in Germany there is a council for every 6,400 citizens; in France there is a council for every 1,700 people. What Minister Hogan and the government is proposing here is incredible – it makes a mockery of the whole concept of local self government and local democracy.
"I would also point out that in recent years elected councillors have consistently lost powers over road plans, waste management plans, and many planning functions. Even the decisive role which councils once had over their Annual Budget and over City and County Development Plans has been greatly diminished. At the same time Managers and senior officials have been given new powers, which are bordering on the dictatorial.
"It is obvious that the local government management system as operated in this country has contributed to an extremely weak local political system. Council officials do not have a political mandate to represent the local community while local elected representatives do not have the responsibilities or structures to optimise a strong local leadership role.
"I have always made the point that all decisions affecting local communities should be taken by elected councillors.
"In most European countries functions such as Education, Health, Policing, Transport and Traffic are normally delivered and overseen by City, County, Regional and Local Authorities.
"However Local Government, as it is normally known in the rest of Europe, actually doesn’t exist in Ireland. At best we have a system of local administration, through which Managers and officials make the executive decisions for our cities, counties and towns. This system was established in the 19th century when we were still the subjects of a foreign monarch. Yet Minister Hogan and the government are taking no real or substantive measures to change that.
"The fact is that elected councillors in Ireland have very little power compared those involved in local government in other jurisdictions. The government’s current proposals now confirm that Ireland has the weakest system of Local Government in the European Union." said Cllr Bree.
"GIVEN THE APPALLING financial record of this Council I find it incredible that the County Manager would recommend that the Council take out yet another loan to clear an overdraft." Councillor Declan Bree told this months meeting of Sligo County Council
"We have had a repetition of this type of borrowing which is leading the Council into deeper and deeper debt. Initially we have a recommendation from the County Manager that the overdraft be increased. Then when it’s increased to its limit we have a recommendation from the Manager to take out a loan to clear the bulk of the overdraft and approve a smaller overdraft. Then we are told that the Council’s annual budget didn’t balance and the whole process starts over again. The overdraft is again increased; a further loan is required; a new overdraft is agreed and the Council debt spirals further and further out of control.
"The contents of the letter from the Department of the Environment which has been circulated to us has major implications for the future of this Council. It contains disastrous news for this Council.
"Three months ago the independent consultants Grant Thornton in their report made it clear that in order to survive this Council required an urgent bailout of €10 million from the Department of the Environment. However the Department in this letter has now made it absolutely clear that there will be no bailout. Minister Hogan and the Department are saying that we must paddle our own canoe and that there will be no bailout.
"The County Councils capital debt is now €73 million and the revenue deficit is €13million and growing. And is it any wonder? For the past number of years the County Manager has consistently asked councillors to adopt budgets that were based on fantasy, budgets that bore no resemblance to reality, budgets that were absurd and unattainable, budgets that have led to massive deficits in the revenue account each year. And to make up the shortfall the County Manager then urges councillors to take out loans and increase overdrafts.
"Unfortunately the majority of councillors continue to dance to the County Managers tune and constantly vote for budgets, overdrafts and loans which have totally undermined this Council’s financial viability." Cllr Bree said.
"Only eight months ago we witnessed a scenario in this Chamber where the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Labour councillors voted in favour of a recommendation from the County Manager to increase the overdraft to a staggering €14 million. Thankfully the Minister and the banks would not approve such a proposal.
"Currently the Councils bank will not extend the Councils overdraft beyond €7.5 million. In this context I believe the bank manager in question is to be commended for taking such a stance. It’s a pity that senior bank officials and bank directors didn’t have the courage and the foresight to take such decisions in the past. If they did our country might be a lot better off today.
"What is happening here is madness, it’s clearly unsustainable and unfortunately it will be the ordinary people of this county who will in due course suffer the consequences.
"While other councils may have had difficulties, the fact of the matter is that Sligo County Council is the only Council in the state where the revenue deficit is increasing year by year. This type of further unsustainable borrowing is bringing the Council to the verge of bankruptcy." said Cllr Bree.
At the conclusion of the debate the County Managers recommendation to borrow €7.5million was adopted by a vote of 12 votes to 11, with the Fine Gael, Labour and Independent Labour councillors supporting the Managers recommendation.
SLIGO IS TO lose €4.7million of government grants because the County Council is unable to provide its portion of funding for the water mains replacement scheme in Sligo town
Earlier this month the County Manager Mr Hubert Kearns said that the County Council would be unable to make the local contribution for the scheme and that the Council was seeking 100% funding from the Department.
However in response to a parliamentary question from the United Left Alliance T.D. Joan Collins, in the Dail last week, the Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan said “there is no scope under the current arrangements for my Department to provide 100% funding to Sligo County Council for this scheme”.
Minister Hogan said in February he had approved the proposal to carry out the watermains replacement works. However, he said that in March the Council wrote to his Department setting out the difficulties in funding its 10% contribution of approximately €467,000 for the scheme.
Speaking this week Cllr Declan Bree said “Where else but in Sligo could we witness such a scenario Here we have the government offering grants of almost €5million for projects that are badly needed but due to ongoing ineptitude and mismanagement the Council is unable to avail of the funding.
“The Department indicated that it was prepared to provide a grant of €500,000 for the planned enhancement and paving of O’Connell Street, and a grant of €4.2 million for the replacement of water mains in the main street and other streets in the town. In addition to the significant improvements, these schemes would also have provided badly needed employment. All the funding is now being lost to Sligo and will be taken up by other Councils who manage their budgets prudently.
“The Department is prepared to provide 90% funding for the replacement of mains because they point out that a significant quantity of treated high quality drinking water is being lost from the system every day. In Sligo 45% of drinking water is unaccounted for.
“It costs the County Council €1.4 million a year to treat water at the Foxes Den and Kilsellagh plants. Unfortunately much of this costly high quality drinking water is wasted because of leakage and pipework corrosion. What is the logic in paying out €1.4million a year to treat water while failing to come up with a once off contribution of €467,000 to replace the leaking mains? The fact is that Sligo is losing out in every way. If ever evidence was required to show that the County Council is a basket case surely this is it.” said Cllr Bree.
HANDING OVER THE finances and resources of the Borough to Sligo County Council would prove disastrous for the future development of Sligo, Cllr Declan Bree told this months meeting of the Borough Council
"In the recent report on the Financial Appraisal of Sligo County Council the Consultants state that from a budgeting perspective the County Council is experiencing an increasing deficit of substantial amounts year on year. The County Council’s Capital Debt is now €73 million and the Revenue deficit is €13 million and is growing each and every day of the week.
"In contrast the Consultants state that this Borough Council is balancing its budget." said Cllr Bree.
"The elected councillors on this Borough Council have acted prudently over the years and refused point blank to accept recommendations from the County Manger to borrow millions of Euro for various projects he was promoting, including the County Managers proposal to borrow €1.3 million to give to private developers to build a bridge to their private development at Swan Point.
"In this context I found it extraordinary but not surprising, given the narrow terms of reference imposed on the Consultants by the County Manager, that they recommended that Sligo Borough Council should be merged with the County Council and that the resources of the Borough Council be handed over to the County Council
"Why would they want the funds and resources of this Borough Council to be handed over to the County Council to be squandered and wasted?" asked Cllr Bree.
"Why would any government or any Minister inflict such a penalty on the Borough Council and on the people of the borough?
"Is that the type of reward that should be bestowed on a Borough Council that has acted prudentlyand with due consideration over the years?
"As far as I am concerned, handing over the finances and resources of the Borough to Sligo County Council would prove disastrous for the future development of Sligo." Cllr Bree said.
Cllr Bree then proposed the following motion which was unanimously adopted: “Noting the fact that the recent financial appraisal of Sligo County Council carried out by consultants Grant Thornton confirms (a) that Sligo County Council is experiencing an increased deficit of substantial amounts year on year; and (b) that Sligo Borough Council is balancing its budget; and further recognising that the elected members of Sligo Borough Council have acted prudently over the years and refused to accept recommendations to borrow millions of Euro for various projects which the County Manager was promoting; this Council declares its total opposition to a merger of the Borough Council with the County Council; and further the Council requests the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to ensure that a merger does not take place and that the finances and resources of the Borough Council remain under the control of the Borough Council.”
SLIGO COUNTY COUNCIL has adopted a motion from Councillor Declan Bree calling on the Government and the Minister for Health to reverse the planned cut backs in the Home Help Service
Addressing the meeting Cllr Bree said "The Government decision to cut back the Home Help Service cannot be justified under any circumstances.
"These proposed cuts will affect the most vulnerable in society - elderly and disabled people in their own homes - the very people who are being more and more marginalised as a result of ongoing austerity measures.
"The cutbacks fly in the face of long-standing policy and clear commitments in the Programme for Government to develop and invest in home and community care services.
"Home Help is a fundamental part of delivering health services at community level. While cuts to hospital services or the closure of hospital wards can be immediately identified, the cuts in the Home Help Service will initially not be as obvious to the general public.
"As home helpers work in the home they are somewhat invisible to the public. However they provide a hugely important service. Their work includes everything from washing patients, feeding them, putting them to bed, changing colostomy bags, making beds, preparing breakfast, organising medication reminders etc. Without this type of care many people wouldn’t be able to live in their own home.
"Cuts to homecare services will result in earlier admissions to nursing homes and longer stays in acute hospitals. Home care services are low-cost yet high value. The cost of home care provision is significantly less than that of nursing home care provision, or long term hospital stay. The cost of an acute hospital bed is €899 a day or €328,000 a year.
"The proposed cut backs are totally illogical and will result in more people being decanted into hospitals while at the same time fewer will be fit for safe discharge home.
"Instead of proposing cut backs the Government should be making good on their commitment to provide additional care in the community for older people in need. The HSE has constantly said that care provision in people’s homes is the preferred option. However the proposed cut backs will have the opposite effect and will inevitably lead to increased hospital admission and increased costs.
"The consequences of these cuts will be earlier admissions to nursing homes, longer stays in acute hospitals and anguish for families who need support to care at home for relatives suffering illness, frailty or disability.
"Elderly people receiving home help services and the Home Help workers who provide the service need the support of the general public. The Governments proposed cut must now be reversed." he said.
He then propsoed the following motion which was unanimously adopted: “Recognising that the Home Help service is a fundamental part of delivering health services at community level; and aware that significant cuts in the service will affect the most vulnerable in society; this Council calls on the Government and the Minister for Health to reverse the planned cut backs in the Home Help Service; and further we call on the Government to adhere to the commitments given in the Programme for Government, to develop and invest in home and community care services.”
THE ATTEMPT BY the government to link the awarding of 3rd Level Education grants with payment of the Household Charge demonstrates how the poisonous effects of this austerity tax will cause increasing aggravation if Fine Gael and Labour don't change course and abolish it as well as abandon the plan for a property tax next year, Cllr Declan Bree told this month’s meeting of Sligo County Council
“The threat to deprive students of third level education grants was a new low for the Fine Gael/Labour coalition.” he said
“It was totally out of order, as practically all grants are for young people who have no liability for the household charge in the first place.
“It was unacceptable to terrorise students and families in this manner at a very stressful time when they were trying to access college.
“It was a disgraceful move particularly because the government was very much aware that it had no legal basis whatever for linking payment of the tax to the third level grant
“The government is clearly getting desperate and appears to be willing to use any means to get the registration figures up.
“Thankfully the protests and resistance that quickly emerged from the anti household charge campaign forced an immediate backtracking by the government and the Councils involved.” said Cllr Bree
IT HAS BEEN revealed that Council expenditure on the administration of Sligo’s Cranmore Regeneration project is significantly higher than any other regeneration scheme in the country.
United Left Alliance representative Joan Collins T.D. recently asked the Minister for the Environment for details of the amount of regeneration funding spent on a number of urban renewal schemes in 2009 including, the Mitchel’s Crescent Regeneration Scheme in Tralee; the Laural Avenue Regeneration Scheme in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown; the Cranmore Regeneration Scheme Sligo and the Waterford City Regeneration Scheme. She also sought the expenditure on staff salaries on each of the regeneration schemes and the staff salaries as a percentage of overall expenditure on each scheme.
The response from the Ministers office revealed that a colossal 17% of funding provided for the Cranmore Regeneration Project in Sligo was spent on salaries. In Dun Laoghaire Rathdown 1.5% of the funding was spent on salaries; in Tralee 1.5% was spent on salaries; while in Waterford 4.5% of funding was spent on salaries.
Speaking today Independent Socialist Councillor Declan Bree thanked Deputy Collins and said “This funding was supposed to be for regeneration, for the refurbishment of housing stock and the improvement of the estate, however in Sligo almost one out of every five euro is being spent on salaries and administration. How can the County Manager justify this?
“When the Minister for the Environment asked the local authorities in Dun Laoghaire, Sligo, Waterford and Tralee to use their own staff and resources to the fullest extent in terms of supervising regeneration schemes, he did so with the intention of reducing costs. However the exorbitant costs in Sligo are inexplicable and clearly cannot be justified.
“While paying 17% of the funding on administration the regeneration office also paid out over €120,000 in fees to private consultants, in addition over €90,000 was paid in Technical fees in respect of the grass mounds in the estate which still remain in place.
“The fact is that regeneration funding is not being spent where it is supposed to. In the past week alone I have been contacted by a number of constituents from Cranmore – one pensioner who asked for proper heating to be installed in her home was told that there was no money for such work; another told me that her obsolete cooker could not be replaced due to lack of funds and another told me that she has had to ask the Ombudsman to intervene so as to have her windows repaired/replaced.
“I have asked Deputy Collins to raise the matter in the Dail when it resumes in September. As far as I am concerned the people of Cranmore and the people of Sligo are entitled to know why so much money is being squandered on administration costs. ” said Cllr Bree.
THE CITIZENS OF the Borough have now every reason to be concerned. To hand over the finances and resources of the Borough Council to Sligo County Council would prove disastrous for the future development of Sligo, Cllr Declan Bree said this week in advance of a special meeting of the County Council where a financial appraisal of the County Council is to be considered.
“I predicted back in June that the narrow and restricted terms of reference imposed by the County Manager for the financial appraisal of Sligo County Council would leave the consultants Grant Thoranton, with no solution to the Council’s financial crises other than to recommend a take over of the Borough Council and its finances. And that is borne out by the report from the consultants which is to be considered at a special meeting of Sligo County Council on this coming Thursday. (9th August)
“The Report confirms that the County Council is experiencing an increasing deficit and currently has a deficit of €13 million in its revenue account. It indicates further that the Council will experience growing financial losses which will increase the deficit to a totally unsustainable €27.5 million by 2017.
“It recommends in the short term a State injection or bailout of €10 million to replace the Council’s bank overdraft and in the medium term it recommends a merger of Sligo Borough Council with Sligo County.
“The consultants state that while the County Council is experiencing an increasing deficit of substantial amounts, the Borough Council is balancing its budget. They also say that the Borough Council is in a stronger position than the County to generate income to bridge the funding gap by way of commercial rates and also from income generated within the town.
“The citizens of the Borough have now every reason to be concerned. To hand over the finances and resources of the Borough to Sligo County Council would prove disastrous for the future development of Sligo.
“I pointed out at the beginning of this process that despite the fact that Sligo County Council has the worst financial record in the country and despite the fact that the County Council is the only Council in the state where the revenue deficit is consistently increasing year by year, there was no proposal in the County Manager’s terms of reference for the consultants to examine, review or assess the performance and competence of the management of the County Council. The consultants were instructed to examine every avenue except the obvious one.
“Given the shambles of the County Council’s finances it is blatantly obvious why management would not want its competence and efficacy assessed.
“There are 34 County and City Councils in the state, and there are 34 County and City Managers. I again pose the question: Why is Sligo County Council the only Council in the country where the revenue deficit is consistently increasing year by year?
“The County Council’s Capital Debt is now €73 million and the Revenue deficit is €13 million and growing. And is it any wonder? For the past number of years the County Manager has consistently asked councillors to adopt annual budgets that were based on fantasy, budgets that bore no resemblance to reality, budgets that were absurd and unattainable, budgets that led to massive deficits in the revenue account each year. And to make up for the shortfall each year the County Manger then urged councillors to take out loans and increase overdrafts.
“Unfortunately the majority of county councillors dance to the County Managers tune and they have constantly voted for budgets and overdrafts which have undermined the council’s financial viability.
“When we met with Minister Hogan in January I told him that I estimated that the County Council was running up a deficit in its revenue account of approximately €7,000 every single day, seven days a week. According to a report issued by the Council’s Head of Finance this week my prediction was accurate - the head of Finance states that Council deficit for 2012 is expected to be €2.5 million!
“I also told the Minister that the Council could not survive without a significant change in management and a major financial bailout. I believe I was also accurate in that regard” said Cllr Bree.
SLIGO SUPPORTERS of the Shell to Sea Campaign mounted a protest at the Carraroe Retail Park in Sligo last evening (Monday 30th July), where a large Tunnel Boring machine was parked in a cordoned off portion of the public car park.
The machine, which the Shell multinational company intends to use to bore a 4.2 metre tunnel through Sruwaddacon estuary, Erris, in North Mayo, was carried on a number of heavy lorries and was under heavy security.
Over 100 uniformed Gardai and Special branch officers in addition to approximately 60 private security personnel travelled with the motorised convoy as it departed the Retail Park for Mayo shortly after 9.00.p.m. last night.
Cllr Declan Bree, who participated in the protest against the convoy said, “The people of Erris and North Mayo have made it clear that they don’t want Shell to put a highly pressurised pipeline for untreated gas in the midst of their community with the consequent risk of explosion and the danger to themselves, their families, and their community.
“They have been intimidated, threatened and even jailed for daring to stand up for their community.
“Throughout this ongoing ordeal these people continue to demonstrate strength, dignity and courage in the face of enormous adversity.
“In doing so they have inspired people from all over Ireland to reclaim the power that we hold as individuals, citizens and communities.
“The Shell to Sea campaign is essentially a campaign of the people versus corporate power. It is about our values and our natural resources; it is about our rights and our natural heritage. It is about the right of communities to live in a safe, peaceful and healthy environment.
“The issue is not only about processing the gas at sea. It’s also about the issue of who controls our natural resources. In the current economic climate there can be no excuse for allowing multinational oil and gas companies to continue making obscene profits immune from taxation while ordinary people are expected to take all the pain
“This evening by our presence on this protest we are calling for the protection of our natural resources and we are expressing our solidarity with the people of Erris and Rossport.” said Cllr Bree.
THE GOVERNMENT IS panicking because of the continued massive boycott of the Household Charge, and the decision last week by Fine Gael and Labour to cutback funding to local councils is in essence a form of collective punishment against communities across the country, Sligo Councillor Declan Bree told those attending a public meeting in the St John Bosco Hall in Donegal town last night.
The meeting, which drew a capacity crowd was organised by the Donegal Can’t Pay Won’t Pay Campaign and was also addressed by Donegal County Councillor John Campbell.
Cllr Bree told the meeting that over 760,000 households were still refusing to register and pay the unjust Household Tax.
“The massive boycott of the Household Tax and the Septic Tank Charge has been successful because ordinary people have said they won’t pay the private debts of bankers and developers.
“The decision by Fine Gael and Labour to cut funding to Councils is in essence a form of collective punishment against communities across the country. They should realise that this type of blackmail and bullying won’t work and will only lead to further austerity.” he said.
“Ordinary people are sending a message to government and to the European elite that austerity has failed and that people have taken enough of their cutbacks and attacks.
“It’s ironic that while corrupt bankers and developers are free to continue enjoying lavish lifestyles at our expense, Fine Gael and Labour in government slash funding to local councils and threaten ordinary people for daring to boycott an unjust tax which will be used to pay off the private debts of these same bankers, developers and bondholders.
“It is obvious that the massive boycott of the Household Tax and the Septic Tank charge caught the government completely by surprise and they are still trying to come to terms with the level of resistance from ordinary people.” Cllr Bree told the meeting.
THE DECISION BY the controlling group on Sligo County Council to impose major cut backs in funding to voluntary and community groups has been strongly criticised by Independent Socialist councillor Declan Bree.
Speaking at a meeting of the People First group Cllr Bree said “Three months ago the controlling group of Fine Gael/Labour /Independent Labour councillors on Sligo Count Council imposed cutbacks of over €1million which will impact on many services. However the cuts imposed at this months meeting can only be described as shocking.
“What we witnessed this month was a savage attack on the many volunteers involved in tidy towns committees, in feiseanna, traditional music events and numerous community and voluntary organisations throughout county Sligo.
“Small grants which were to issue to the Ballintogher Traditional Festival; the South Sligo Summer School; the Coleman Traditional Festival; the Choral Festival; the Fleadh Cheoil; Feis Shligigh; Feis Cheoil and the James Morrison Weekend have been cut by over 40%, while grants to the Tidy Towns Committees in the county have been slashed by 80%. In addition funding earmarked for other voluntary and community groups has been cut by 66%.
“These cutbacks were recommended by the County Manager, and the controlling group on the council constantly dance to the County Manager’s tune.
“Never, in the history of Sligo County Council has any controlling group of councillors acted in such a manner. It totally undermines the spirit of partnership that existed between the Council and local community activists.
“Over the past number of years these same councillors adapted budgets that were proposed by the County Manager, budgets that were based on fantasy, budgets that bore no resemblance to reality, budgets that were absurd and unattainable, budgets that led to massive deficits in the revenue account each year. And now in an attempt to make up for their mistakes they impose these savage cuts on voluntary and community organisations.” said Cllr Bree.
*AT THIS months meeting of the County Council Cllr Bree proposed the following motions which were voted down by the controlling group on the Council:
(1) “That the recommendations be amended and that the original budgeted amount of grant assistance for 2012 be paid to the County Fleadh Cheoil; to the Ballintogher Traditional Festival; the South Sligo Summer School; the Coleman Traditional Festival; the Choral Festival; Feis Shligigh; Feis Cheoil and the James Morrison Weekend.”
(2) “That the recommendations be amended and that the original budgeted amount of grant assistance for 2012 be provided for Tidy Towns groups.”
(3) “That the recommendations be amended and that the original budgeted amount of grant assistance for 2012 be provided for Community and Voluntary Groups.”