News & Current Issues
Here are some of the current issues.
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.”
THE FINANCIAL APPRAISAL of Sligo County Council is fundamentally flawed by virtue of the fact that the terms of reference issued to the consultants by Council management are restricted and inappropriate; Cllr Declan Bree claimed this week.
“The narrow and restricted terms of reference for the financial appraisal will leave the consultants with no solution to the County Council’s financial crisis other than to recommend a take over of the Borough Council and its finances.
“The so called financial appraisal is clearly designed to ensure a recommendation that Sligo Borough Council be dissolved as an independent local authority with its financial resources handed over to the County Council.
“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 is no proposal in the terms of reference for the consultants to examine, review or assess the performance and competence of the management of the County Council. The consultants have been instructed to examine numerous avenues except the obvious one.” said Cllr Bree.
“Given the shambles of the County Council’s finances it is blatantly obvious why management would not want its competence and efficacy assessed.
“The narrow terms of reference and the restricted scope of the appraisal imposed by the County Manager makes a mockery of the entire exercise.
“Is it any wonder that the Council management imposed its own terms of reference and proceeded to engage consultants without consulting the elected members of the Council.
“The record will show that at a Council meeting on the 2nd of May when reference was made to the proposal to engage consultants, the elected members unanimously resolved that the Council be provided with a report on the proposals to hire consultants including a copy of the tender documents and the terms of reference. However when the Council held its monthly meeting on the 14th of May, the proposed terms of reference and tender documents were not made available and the elected Council had no input into the process.
“Sligo County Council, as a result of ongoing incompetence, mismanagement and erroneous decisions is today on the verge of bankruptcy while Sligo Borough Council’s finances are in a reasonably healthy state.
“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.” said Cllr Bree.
SPEAKING AT THE conclusion of the referendum count, Cllr Declan Bree said: “The government clearly understood that the referendum would be a battle between people’s fear and their anger. The “Yes” campaign made fear the centerpiece of its campaign and unfortunately the fear factor prevailed. Even among supporters of the treaty there was an admission that the only grounds for supporting it were the threats of exclusion from future bailout funds.
“The result certainly shouldn’t be regarded as a mandate to impose the household charge, water tax and other austerity measures. It’s clear that those who are bearing the brunt of the austerity measures - cuts and tax hikes - have rejected this treaty in large numbers.
“The treaty, and the austerity policies being currently implemented, will bring neither stability, recovery nor growth. The battle against austerity continues.” said Cllr Bree.
“THAT THOSE INVOLVED in the “Yes” campaign issued a fraudulent and concocted photograph to the media speaks volumes about the veracity and integrity of their campaign, Cllr Declan Bree said today, referring to an advertisement photograph published in the “Sligo Weekender” last week.
"I understand that the plan to bring together Sligo advocates of a “Yes” vote turned into a debacle when likely supporters of the Fiscal Treaty failed or refused to turn up for a launch and photo opportunity in the Park Hotel two weeks ago." continued Cllr Bree.
"Elected representatives from the main political parties and representatives from numerous banks and business associations in Sligo were invited to take part in the event, however only a handful of people agreed to participate.
"In an attempt to give some credibility to their launch an image of the current Mayor of Sligo Cllr Rosaleen O’Grady was inserted in the group photograph which the organisers used as an advertisement in the local media last week.
"However the Mayor has clearly stated that she did not attend or participate in the event and it is now clear that the photograph that was published was falsified.
"In fairness to the “Sligo Weekender” it has to be said that it published the advertisement and photograph in good faith without realising that it had been tampered with.
"That those involved in the “Yes” campaign would issue a fraudulent and concocted photograph to the media speaks volumes about the veracity and integrity of their campaign.
"It would appear that fake and phoney photographs and fake and phoney arguments are clearly acceptable in the “Yes” campaign." said Cllr Bree.
"That business groups like IBEC are part of this will come as no surprise given the recent history of leading business people in the banking and financial sectors in this country.
"How can those people who call on the public to vote “Yes” be trusted? Where are the Lisbon jobs they promised the electorate during the last referendum? Where are the cancer services they promised to restore? Where is the mammography service they promised to restore? And what about the promises and pledges relating to Sligo Airport and to the Government offices in Tubbercurry. And these same representatives are now asking the public to trust them and to vote “Yes” for the Fiscal Treaty."
"I believe that the voting public are entitled to the truth. The public look for integrity, sincerity and honesty from all those involved in the debate on the Fiscal Treaty. But they are not getting it. Playing around with the truth and issuing bogus photographs reflects very poorly on the “Yes” campaign.” said Cllr Bree.
RECENT ATTEMPTS TO portray the imposition of a water tax as being about water conservation are total nonsense. The creation of the Irish Water company is about paving the way towards privatisation of our water services. It is a demand of the troika and a long sought wish of certain multinationals, said Cllr Declan Bree when he proposed a motion opposing the privatisation of water services at this months meeting of Sligo County Council.
Cllr Bree said “There is growing concern regarding the proposal by the government to remove the provision of public water from local authorities and hand over the services to a centralised Irish water company.
“The shedding of thousands of local authority jobs and a reduction in the role of local government in the provision of water and sanitary services is clearly unwelcome.
“This Council, like council’s across the country has a long record of providing an effective public water service.
“Those of us involved in local government all recognise that the years of under investment by successive government in water service infrastructure has created significant difficulties and we also recognise that the continuing failure of national government to invest in water infrastructure further undermines the service.
“Recent attempts to portray the imposition of a water tax as being about water conservation are total nonsense. The creation of the Irish Water company is about paving the way towards privatisation of our water services. It is a demand of the troika and a long sought wish of certain multinationals.
“If the water tax is successfully imposed, the next step will be to sell off the service. The experience of the privatisation of Eircom whereby the extraction of profit became more important than the development of services and has ultimately resulted in the company going into examinership show the inevitable result of the policy of privatisation.
“The experiences of Britain where water services have been privatised should also serve as a warning. Profits for shareholders have become much more important than investment in water services. Charges increase year on year and in many areas people regularly face water shortages.
“The decision of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and of SIPTU and the IMPACT trade unions to resist any proposal to privatise the water sector must be welcomed.
“What we need now is investment in our water infrastructure, not privatisation.
“I therefore propose “That Sligo County Council, recognising that water is a limited natural resource and a public commodity fundamental to life and health; (a) declares it’s opposition to the private control of water services; (b) expresses its concern regarding the government’s proposal to centralise water services; and (c) welcomes the Irish Congress of Trade Unions pledge to resist any proposal to privatise the water sector.”
The motion was seconded by Cllr Sean MacManus and was unanimously adopted by the Council.
THE GOVERNMENT THREATS to impose an even harsher budget if people dare to vote No to the Fiscal Treaty must be resisted, said Cllr Declan Bree when he spoke at a May Day meeting in Sligo.
Addressing those attending the People First May Day ceremony in New Street, on May 1st, Cllr Bree said “It is unacceptable for the Minister for Finance to threaten people with an even harsher budget if they dare to vote no. People are not being invited to participate in a debate; they are being bullied and intimidated by the establishment. The Government has now turned on its own people.” he said
“The Fiscal Treaty will impose a permanent policy of austerity and in reality it is a device for fleecing and robbing ordinary people. It has been drafted to ensure that more of the people’s money will be spent on servicing a debt that is not theirs than will be spent on the people’s basic needs, such as decent health services and education.
Cllr Bree said the Treaty will tie the hands not only of the current government but of all governments into the foreseeable future as regards economic policy, and it will bury once and for all the hope of a Social Europe.
THE DECISION BY the County Manager to employ private consultants to provide a report on Sligo County Council’s financial situation has been described as “a shocking waste of public funds” by Councillor Declan Bree.
“Sligo County Council is currently paying over a half a million euro in salaries to a County Manager, a management team and accountants, to do a job and ensure the finances of the council are properly managed. Yet we now have the County Manager proposing to pay private consultants to do the job which he is already paid to do. Where else but in Sligo would we witness such a scenario?” asked Cllr Bree.
“On the day the County Manager informed councillors of his intention to hire consultants we also learned from the Annual Financial Report that he had allowed the Council overrun its 2011 budget by €2,972,456.
“The Council is now over €70 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 and overdrafts which have undermined the council’s financial viability
“We don’t need to pay consultants to advise us on our financial situation. In January I told the Minister for the Environment that it was my opinion that the Council could not survive without a significant change in management and a major financial bailout.
"What is happening in Sligo is clearly unsustainable. While other councils may have had difficulties, the fact of the matter is that Sligo County Council in the only Council in the entire country where the revenue deficit is increasing year by year.” said Cllr Bree
THE PEOPLE OF rural Ireland will not be intimidated by threats from the E.U and the government. We will defend our turbary rights in the time honoured Irish tradition, said Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan T.D. when he addressed those attending the People First annual Easter 1916 Commemoration Ceremony in Sligo on Easter Sunday.
Led by flag-bearers carrying the Tri-colour and the Plough and the Stars, those participating in the event marched from Cairns Drive to the Republican Plot in Sligo cemetery to hear Deputy Flanagan deliver the oration.
“Our people have taken the responsibility of guardianship of Ireland’s natural heritage seriously, but there can be no effective guardianship where those who have traditionally shouldered that responsibility are ignored.
“We have been excluded from all decision making, denied consultation, denied access to information both general and scientific, denied representation, denied legal assistance and denied reasonable compensation or alternatives. We have had agreements dishonoured. We have been treated unfairly and we have been subjected to a state-backed campaign of intimidation, victimisation and threats.
“Whether it relates to turbary rights, household taxes or the proposed Fiscal Stability Treaty – we will not be dictated to. Families already reeling from austerity are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet
“The austerity treaty will be a permanent policy and can only be described as a device for fleecing and robbing ordinary people.” Calling on people to vote ‘No’ to the Treaty Deputy Flanagan said “It is there to ensure that more of the people’s money will be spent on servicing a debt that is not theirs than will be spent on the people’s basic needs, such as decent health services and education.”
Sligo councillor Declan Bree, who presided at the ceremony told those attending “The revolt over household charges and the tax on peoples homes caught the government unawares and the Taoiseach and his cabinet are still trying to come to terms with the massive boycott of the tax.
“The forthcoming referendum on the European Stability Treaty gives the people a further opportunity to strike a blow against austerity.
“A clear ‘No’ vote will sent a definite message to the European elite that austerity has failed and that people have taken enough of their cuts and attacks.” said Cllr Bree.
Following the oration as a lone piper played a lament, Ms Brenda Barr laid a wreath on behalf of People First, Ms Laura Scanlon laid a wreath on behalf of the Connolly Forum and Mr Thomas Banks laid a floral tribute on behalf of the People’s Movement. The ceremony concluded with the National Anthem.
AT IT’S MONTHLY meeting the ruling group on Sligo County Council voted to impose cut backs in services to the value of €1million.
Addressing the meeting Cllr Declan Bree said, “The adoption of an annual budget is a reserved function of the elected members of a Council. Three months ago this Council spent an entire day giving consideration to the draft Annual Budget for 2012. The draft budget and back up documentation consisted of 146 pages. That budget was adopted.
“Now we have been presented with a two page report by the Council Manager where he says he intends to impose cuts of €1million. To my knowledge such a move is unprecedented and makes a mockery of local self government.
“Not surprisingly the Fine Gael/Labour ruling group on the Council are supporting the cut-backs being introduced by the County Manager.
“The report we have received from the County Manger provides a number of headings where cuts are being proposed, but the Manager does not provide any information to the Council as to specific cuts and how they may affect the community. This is totally unacceptable.
“To add insult to injury, the County Manger in the same two page report tells us that he intends to hire consultants to provide an independent report on the County Council’s financial situation. Like every other local authority in Ireland this Council is paying out hundreds of thousands of Euro in salaries each year to a County Manager, a management team and accountants, to do a job and ensure that the finances of the Council are properly managed. Yet now we have the County Manger proposing to pay private consultants to do the job which he is already paid to do. Where else but in Sligo would we witness such a ridiculous and wasteful proposal coming before a Council.
“There are 34 County and City Councils in the state, and there are 34 County and City Managers. I don’t think we need to pay consultants to find out why Sligo County Council is the only Council in the country where the revenue deficit is consistently increasing year by year.” said Cllr Bree.
Cllr Bree then proposed the following motion: “That this Council rejects the proposed cutbacks as contained in the County Manager’s Report of the 27th March 2012 and further the Council directs the County Manager to commence payment of the Housing Adaptation Grants to eligible applicants in accordance with the Department of the Environment’s Housing (Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability) Regulations 2007.” The motion was defeated by the Council’s ruling group who then proceeded to vote in favour of a Fine Gael motion to impose the €1million cut back in Council services.
THE GOVERNMENT DECISION to cease funding the Local Authority Housing Programme is bad news for the hundreds of families on this Councils Housing Waiting List, Cllr Declan Bree told this months meeting of Sligo County Council.
“The former Fianna Fail Minister for Housing Michael Finneran, managed to bring our housing programme to a standstill. However it is now clear that the Fine Gael/Labour government is implementing the same type of policy.
“Today there are over 600 applicants on this Council’s Housing Waiting list. There is a similar situation in the Borough with over 700 applicants on its Waiting list.
“As more people get into difficulty with mortgage repayments many of them will have no option but to apply for council housing.
“The Government is telling us to take out long-term leases on vacant houses and in turn rent the houses to applicants on the housing waiting list. They tell us that this is a new method for the delivery of social housing. However it’s clear that this is nothing more than a funding scheme for the speculators and developers.
“If the government is serious about providing social housing then it should avail of the opportunity that has been presented to it by the fall in property prices. It’s a buyers market. Councils should now be in a position to purchase houses at rock bottom prices from NAMA and make them available to families on the housing lists. However the new Government appears to have other priorities.”
Cllr Bree then proposed the following motion“That this Council calls on the Government and the Department of the Environment to reconsider its decision to cease funding the County Councils Housing Investment Programme and further we call on the Government to provide sufficient funding under the Social Housing Investment Programme to allow the Council to purchase at an economic price, suitable housing stock in the possession of NAMA.” The motion was seconded by Cllr Chris MacManus and was adopted by the Council.
AT IT’S MEETING this week Sligo County Council by a majority of 17 to 3 voted to approve over expenditure of €2.9 million.
Addressing the meeting Cllr Declan Bree said “When the County Manager presented his draft Budget for 2011 to this Council I pointed out to councillors that it bore little resemblance to reality and that it would sink us into deeper debt. I warned councillors of the danger of voting for it. However the Fine Gael and Labour councillors refused to listen to reason and they voted to adopt the County Managers budget which, according to the Financial Statement for 2011, has led to a further deficit of €2.9 million in the Council’s revenue account.
“Having plunged the Council into further debt the County Manager is now asking councillors to approve over-expenditure of the €2.9 million. Given the debts which the Council has run up over the past number of years what is being proposed here can only be considered as utter madness and totally unsustainable. I would urge its rejection. I certainly will not be voting for the County Manager’s proposal.” said Cllr Bree.
THE DECISION BY the County Manager to stop payments of Housing Adaptation Grants to needy applicants is outrageous and must be reversed as a matter of urgency. Cllr Declan Bree, said today.
“At the end of February the Department of the Environment announced its allocation of €798,147 to Sligo County Council to allow the Council to proceed with the payments of housing adaptation grants and help clear the backlog of applications which had built up during 2011. In compliance with Department conditions the Council provided for its required 20% matching contribution of €199,537 at its Estimates meeting in December.” said Cllr Bree.
“However despite the fact that the funding is in place, the County Manager has directed Council staff not to release the grants to the many applicants awaiting payments, and instead he requested the Department to fund the grant scheme 100%, or alternatively to allow the Council to process the grants on the basis that applicants would contribute the balance of 20% of the costs.
“It has now come to light that the Department responded highlighting the regulations relating to the administration of the grants scheme and making it clear to the County Manager that the Council is required to provide the 20% funding from its own resources. Yet, the grants are being withheld from those in need.” said Cllr Bree.
“The fact that the ruling group on the Council supports the decision of the County Manager and that plans are currently being prepared to impose further major cut backs in Council services is clearly a matter of significant concern.
“Fine Gael and Labour have danced to the County Managers tune for the past number of and having run up huge Council debts it would appear that they now intend to target the most vulnerable so as to reduce the deficit.
“Everyone is aware that the housing adaptation schemes, including the disability grant scheme and the grants for older people, are vitally important in helping older people and people with a disability to continue to live in their own homes and communities with the dignity they deserve.
“What we are talking abut here is an attack on elderly people and the disabled. There are almost 200 applicants currently awaiting grant approval. The money is in place but the grants are not being released. The decision is mean and cruel and must be reversed.” declared Cllr Bree.
THE FISCAL Stability Treaty presents us with a stark choice: vote ‘yes’ for long-term austerity, economic stagnation, unemployment and emigration, or vote ‘no’ for a programme of economic stimulus with hope for the future, Mr Thomas Pringle T.D. told a public meeting organised by the Peoples Movement in Sligo this week.
The Donegal deputy said “The Treaty specifically subordinates the Irish state to the economic programme laid down by the core euro states. It outlaws deficit financing, even when such is appropriate in either a Keynesian or a socialist model.
“If it had applied in the Thirties and Fifties, the Great Depression would have been permanent, and Seán Lemass’s Second Programme for Economic Expansion would never have happened.” he said.
The Vice-President of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions, Mr Mick O’Reilly, who also addressed the meeting said “The proposed new Treaty is in reality an austerity treaty – it is an undemocratic attempt to institutionalise austerity across Europe. Its ‘Fiscal Compact’ would deny the right of member state governments to run a ‘structural’ budget deficit of more than 0.5%. This would remove the democratic right of national parliaments to decide national budgets, with that power shifting to the unelected European Commission and European Court of Justice. This would be a fundamental transfer of power away from elected governments.”
Cllr Declan Bree, who presided at the meeting said “The imposition in the treaty of a permanent right wing economic ideology; the limitations on social investment; the subservient position of our Oireachtas; and the prioritisation of the needs of the banking sector are clearly unacceptable and must be rejected. It will tie the hands not only of this government but of all governments into the foreseeable future as regards economic policy.”
SUPPORTING A motion tabled by Cllr Sean MacManus relating to the Borough Council's Finance Department, Cllr Declan Bree said "there can be no justification for transferring the Finance Department from the Town Hall to the County Council."
"I have been approached by staff who have told me that the County Manager is planning to close down the Borough Finance Department here in City Hall and move it to the County Council offices in Riverside." he continued. "In fact people whom I met in the street over the past number of weeks have been able to tell me about this plan.
"It speaks volumes about the way the County Manger does his business when we have to depend on people on the streets to tell us of his plans. Again the Manager is treating the elected members of this Borough Council with utter contempt. Has he never heard of openness and transparency and local democracy.
"It is very clear to me and to the people of this town what this is all about. Sligo County Council is on the verge of bankruptcy – and it’s desperate to get it’s claw’s on the resources and finances of this Borough Council.
"Over the past number of years members of Sligo County Council borrowed millions and voted for annual budgets presented by the County Manager that were absurd and unattainable. As a result the County Council is over €70 million in debt and its debt is growing at the rate of €60,000 a week.
"On the other hand the members of this Borough Council acted in a responsible manner and rejected recommendations from the County Manger to borrow millions of Euro. If we had adopted the recommendations of the County Manger this Council would now be bankrupt and facing abolition.
"We all know that certain elements want to see Sligo County Council take over the running of the Borough Council to pillage and plunder and take every cent out of the town and squander it like they did with their own resources." Cllr Bree said.
"There can be no justification for transferring the Finance Department from the Town Hall to the County Council. It’s functioning extremely well and it continues to take in significant income despite the recession.
"We have to make it clear to the County Manager that he is not to interfere with Sligo Borough Council. This year we celebrate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Borough. We also celebrate a long tradition of good local government in this town. We have to make it clear that we will defend what is ours. The citizens of this town would never forgive us if we allowed our services to be taken over by the County Council." said Cllr Bree.