BETTER Local Government or BLG, as it is called, was mooted by Noel Dempsey as Minister for the Environment and finalised by the present incumbent, Martin Cullen. The idea was great but the reality is different. BLG is not working. It has given inordinate powers to council officials and reduced elected councillors to the decision-making sideline. Councillors can strike a rate, draw up a development plan and agree development levies. Should councillors fail to carry out these tasks, there is always plan B, which gives power to the Minister to intervene. Councillors have no decision–making role in planning matters, full stop. One visitor to Westport Town Council offices recently was told so in no uncertain terms by a senior official. When you strip it back, councillors do not have any real power. They are more ‘rubber stampers’ than decision makers. Some executive decisions (decisions made by council officials) have to be approved by the councillors but it is nothing more than tokenism. BLG introduced such carrots as ‘stipends’ for the councillors, circa 12,000 euro per annum, taxable. They also receive circa 4,000 euro per annum in conference expenses plus travelling expenses for meetings on other committees. Some councillors also receive circa 10,000 euro per annum as chairs of the various Special Policy Committees, another facet of BLG.
The figures for expenses are considerably less than the enormous 70,000 euro claimed by Cllr Maloney, a Mayo County Councillor, recently when he topped the national poll of expenses across all county councils. The reason that councillors are not trusted with serious decision making powers is that they simply have not earned the trust. The new system was brought in the shadow of a scandal of immense proportions and mainly one that involved county councillors taking bribes from business to vote planning applications through. They simply can’t be trusted. Even a son of a former Taoiseach was taking money. Cabinet ministers cleaning up all round them. Mr insatiable wouldn’t get out of bed without a bribe. Granted there were a small number of officials involved too and the new ethics in public office requirements for even very low level public servants to sign are a response to this. Officials have been signing these declarations for years outlining all their property holdings, gifts, etc. On the other hand our councillors have fiercely resisted them - and especially they do not want to outline their property holdings. And particularly those who are actively involved in the property business – buying selling sites, houses, developing property, etc. But they not shied away from making large-scale changes in the county development plan specifically to do with planning matters regarding one-off houses. By any reasonable standard this constitutes a conflict of interest – auctioneers who sell such houses should not be involved in planning matters full stop. Neither should the farmer councillors who sell such sites nor the builder councillors (or their associates) who build on them have anything to do with decisions that affect the value or saleability of such property. It is a conflict of interest.
THREE Mayo men featured on the Irish angling team which slapped a highly-rated English team with the wooden spoon at the weekend. John Burke and Pat Kelly, both from Ballina, and Castlebar’s Peter Byrne made up a significant part of the 14-man Ireland team which claimed gold at the Home International Spring Match also involving England, Scotland and Wales, fished at Lower Lough Erne on Friday last.
Ireland claimed first place, catching eleven fish for 14.16lb, with Wales and Scotland in second and third respectively, and England bringing up the rear with 9.18lb. After the Irish team, which receives no sponsorship, was presented with gold medals, the highly-sponsored English team was presented with an actual wooden spoon. "A lot of anglers would like to fish for Ireland but they can’t afford to," said Peter Byrne who revealed that it cost him in the region of 1,400 euro to take part in the event for the first time after his successful qualification. "I’m privileged to fish for Ireland, cost didn’t matter." The English team, Byrne pointed out, received sponsorship for rods, reels, lines, accommodation and transport while the Irish team struggled to attract any sponsorship. "The English thought they would trounce the pants off us, but we’re catching up. They were afraid of us on Irish water," revealed the enthusiastic Byrne, adding that Ireland’s last victory in the competition, hosted by the International Fly-Fishing Association, was at the same venue four years ago. He explained that in Ireland the competitors fish for wild brown trout, as opposed to stock fish in England, and that the last of the big wild brown trout fisheries in Europe at Conn, Cullen, Mask, Carra and Corrib would have been expected to lend Irish anglers an advantage. This perceived advantage failed to materialise when the anticipated big wave at Lough Erne didn’t come about last Friday, levelling the ‘playing field’ in favour of the visitors.
A fishy story indeed. According to the Central Fisheries Board Ireland has something like 13 of the 14 remaining wild brown trout fisheries in Europe. Lough Erne doesn’t count among these as far as I know because it has been quite badly polluted for many years. You hear stories about continental anglers sitting elbow to elbow around quarries in France that have been stocked with fish. This is what they call fishing. But they don’t know what Irish wild brown trout fishing is really like. Compare those pathetic quarry holes with what is going on Corrib and Mask this week. Corrib alone has at least 1000 boats out there any day this week chasing after hungry trout that are going made for The May Fly. The mayfly is up! It’s a huge earner for the region. Unfortunately this may not last much longer. So if you’ve never gone dapping try it soon so you can tell your children about this exciting piscatorial adventure. Sustainability means handing on things intact to the next generation – even if they haven’t done anything for us. But unfortunately those 13 lakes so rare in European terms are very much in danger from farming and septic tanks. Lough Conn trout took a hammering because of farm slurry and fertiliser runoff. The arctic char went extinct there about 15 years ago and trout stocks dropped to a fraction of their former level according to the CFB. These lakes must be preserved and I am delighted to see a conference in GMIT Castlebar to be held on the weekend of June 25-27 dealing with the ecology and heritage of the Great Western Lakes.
With the legal wrangling now a thing of the past, it’s time to get serious about bringing world class golf to Bartragh Island. An excited Nick Faldo visited Killala last week. Michael Duffy reports. IT has met with more that its fair share of obstacles in the last seven years but Nick Faldo’s pipe dream of locating a world class golf course on Bartragh Island is coming closer to reality. The most famous golfer ever to come out of the United Kingdom is keen to advance his ambitious plans now that ownership rights have been cleared up in the courts and he visited Killala last week for an informal meeting with local agencies. He met with members of Killala Community Council and the Ballina Chamber of Commerce at the upbeat get together where Faldo and two of his Irish backers, Sean Sutton from Kinnegad and Mick Butler from Longford, told the meeting that it was hoped to lodge the extensive planning application early in 2006. Various pre-planning studies and tests will be carried during the remainder of this year. Faldo flew into Knock Airport before paying a visit to Bartragh prior to the meeting in Killala.
I used to go fishing and bird watching at the Old Head in Cork. Such a simple activity is no longer possible because of the golf club that has blocked it off, taken it over and extinguished all old rights of way. So bye bye Bartragh Island! I have grave misgivings about golf courses on wilderness areas or areas of special conservation interest. The amount of fertiliser and pesticides used by golf courses to keep their greens green for a start. And the highly efficient drainage beneath them – sand in this case presumably – means that most of that fertiliser is going to leach into the surrounding environment i.e. Killala Bay. The Environmental Impact Statement for this one should be scrutinised in extreme detail.