Cathaoirleach Sarah O’Reilly said roads are in a “serious condition”.

Potholes cropping up ‘like mushrooms’

DEBATE Council concern over roads funding

The disintegration of Cavan’s roads needs to be immediately addressed before there’s a return to “the bad old days” members of Cavan County Council heard during an, at times, heated debate at the February meeting of the authority.

Cllr Sarah O’Reilly raised the issue of the “serious condition” of the roads in the county. The Cathaoirleach asked members ‘to agree a plan to address the need for a more targeted urgent response to the current alarming deterioration in the situation and to action those plans as soon as possible’.

The Aontú representative said the matter has become a serious problem since late December: “The combination of significant weather events in the last two months, coupled with 10 years of underfunding of the roads by central government, along with the restrictions of the pandemic have created a perfect storm,” she told members.

Cllr O’Reilly said she has spoken to the area engineers, directors of services and the chief executive in a bid to “rescue the roads from further deterioration”. The council chair said Bailieborough, Shercock and Kingscourt have all been badly effected, but acknowledged it was a county-wide problem.

The Cathaoirleach suggested purchasing a new pothole repair machine and focusing on landowners to improve drainage and maintenance of hedgerows. The Aontú councillor accepted that council staff were under severe pressure, but insisted that pothole repair should be considered “essential work”.

Cllr Peter McVitty (FG) described the motion as “timely”.

“This is a major issue for the county. The amount of water standing on our roads is desperate. There has to be co-operation between the landowners and the council in order to have the problem addressed,” he said.

Weighing in on the debate Sinn Féin’s Paddy McDonald said it was vital the problem did not escalate and that everything possible be done to prevent a “return to the old days”.

Cllr Shane P. O’Reilly (Ind) said: “Every measure possible should be employed to find a solution to this problem. This is proof that central government and the Department of Transport are eroding the powers of the local authority.“Potholes are cropping up everywhere like mushrooms. The minister for bicycles [Eamon Ryan] will do very little for Cavan roads. He will blame weak councils, but we have been starved of funding. This is the biggest issue facing the county at this point in time. It is time we thumped counters,” an animated Cllr O’Reilly said.

This opinion was also voiced by fellow Independent Cllr Brendan Fay: “Every councillor is getting this from our constituents. I can’t believe that the operation of the pothole machine is not considered ‘essential work’; it is. I get calls every day, it’s always the same - roads getting worse and potholes getting bigger. I agree with Cllr O’Reilly, it is time to put on the blue jersey and start thumping tables.”

Cllr TP O’Reilly commended the work that has been undertaken: “The amount of work that has been done with the limited resources is a credit to the council, but we do need to stay on top if it.”

There was a fiery exchange between Cllr Shane P O’Reilly and and Cllr Aiden Fitzpatrick about his exclusion from a meeting between Minister Ryan and council members late last year.

Cllr McVitty called for calm: “If we don’t work together we will be in trouble when the next election comes. We are all in this boat together and we don’t want to sink it.”

‘Chronic underfunding’

The Director of Services, Transportation, Environment and Water Services, Paddy Connaughton, said the local authority were doing their “very best to stay on top of the situation”.

Mr Connaughton pointed to the “chronic underfunding” of the roads budget and “a number of critical issues”.

He said, to address the problem, the council has hired four road patching machines. The Director of Services said that the roadworks programmes will be discussed in each Municipal District in the coming month and there will be an examination to see if resources can be deployed in a more effective manner.

Chief Executive Tommy Ryan said that the long-term investment in roads has been steadily decreasing. Mr Ryan said the current allocation is 50% of what is required. He informed members that, in 2008, there was a €22M grant for roads; while in 2020 it had tumbled to €17M, while costs had risen year on year.

Mr Ryan said he had a duty of care to his staff and pointed out that non-essential construction was not proceeding and all local authority housing projects that could no be finished in the coming months would not proceed. He said the static funding of the last number of years had been an effective reduction in the budget, but said that outdoor staff have responded well.

Mr Ryan gave members a commitment to “look at if better ways of spending money could be found”.