A row centring on why Cavan County Council applied for just €40,080 in top-up money for works on private laneways led to a tense stand-off between councillors and the executive at their final meeting of 2017.
“I think we’ve let down the people of this county very badly indeed,” said Paddy O’Reilly, speaking on behalf of the council’s Fine Gael grouping at the December monthly meeting last Friday afternoon, which was held in the Bailieborough Library.
“We are a laughing stock,” he added scathingly, assessing how the €40,080 in additional funding under the Local Improvement Scheme (LIS), announced on November 27, was the lowest allocated nationally. Four other counties - Limerick, Wicklow, Tipperary and Louth - did not seek extra funding at all.
The funding was on top of €295,000 allocated to the council for LIS in mid-September; a sum significantly less than the near €770,000 originally applied for.
Works were completed on nine private rural lanes in the county - two in the Belturbet Municipal District area, three in Bailieborough-Cootehill and four in Ballyjamesduff. It’s understood that there are almost 200 on the waiting list in the county seeking funding under the scheme.
The funding of non-public roadworks has long since been a contentious topic in the council chamber. The dedicated LIS scheme was suspended by the government in 2011 and only recently reinstated. In the intervening period, local authorities were permitted to use 15% of their Discretionary Fund for such works, but Cavan chose not to despite the protestations of the
Fine Gael representatives locally.
Nationally, additional allocations under LIS were made on the basis of demand and stated capacity by each local authority to spend the money before end of 2017.
By comparison, Donegal County Council received €2.5m in November.
“To say we couldn’t do it and didn’t have the time is not good enough. I feel very let down,” Cllr O’Reilly continued.
Using Donegal as an example again, Cllr O’Reilly said staff were being employed at weekends to ensure works were completed and monies spent.
Cllr Paddy Smith (FG) added he had “got the feeling there was no willingness” from the executive to try progress the case for extra LIS funding.
Cootehill’s Carmel Brady agreed, asking the executive to provide a full list of the near 200 laneways in the county now seeking to avail of LIS intervention.
“The way the council is being investigated at the minute, and in the interest of transparency, why isn’t the list being made available when it is everywhere else?” she asked.
That call, and also the potential to reassess how the list is prioritised going forward, gained cross-party support from Cllrs Peter McVitty (FG), Val Smith (FG) and Shane P O’Reilly (FF).
Defending the executive’s position, Director of Services for Roads Joe McLoughlin clarified that the November allocation was “not a case of asking for ‘how much do we want?’”
He stated that the LIS works they did secure funding for competed against works that the authority were already contractually obliged to undertake.
Mr McLoughlin was backed by CEO Tommy Ryan in that regard saying that they could not commit to completing the works if the conditions that the money be spent, could not be met.
As for the list being made available, Mr McLoughlin said that the authority was constrained by data protection and, how the list was dealt with, is based on a decision previously agreed by past elected members. He added that councillors could make specific representations to find out where specific lanes are in the list, but the full list could not be published.
Opposing Fine Gael’s argument, Fianna Fáil’s Sean Smith said: “You are wrong to accuse Fianna Fáil of doing away with LIS, you are wrong to blame Sinn Féin, and you are now wrong about the executive.”
He alleged that, at a previous private meeting of the council, “behaviour” took place that “wouldn’t be accepted in any forum”, and added there was “little point” in the Department dishing out funds with “rigid rules” that it be used and spent before year end.
But overall, the disappointment at the funding levels was widely shared. Cllr Fergal Curtin (FF) described the situation as “desperate to say the least”. Cllr Winston Bennett (FG) noted that it “looked bad for all and sundry” and Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF) sought a meeting on road allocations in general. Cllrs Sarah O’Reilly and Clifford Kelly (FF) also contributed to the debate.
Cllr Feeley also queried how Minister Michael Ring’s office dealt with funding for other councils, where there was little prospect of ever spending the monies allocated by the end of the month.
He said that it would be “interesting” to see how much funding went unspent in each county.