From Castlebar - County Mayo -

Local Papers Commentary
From the Mayo News - 7 July 2004
By The Jaundiced Eye
11, Jul 2004 - 11:00

Selling Castlebar

A MAJOR drive to sell Castlebar to the public sector as the perfect location in which to live and work, is currently under way by the local Chamber of Commerce. Castlebar Town and Environs are to feature as part of a six-page spread in the August edition of the ‘Public Sector Times’, an in-house publication which is read by more than 100,000 people and distributed directly to over 10,000 civil servants with permanent, pensionable jobs. Every Government Minister, Minister of State, T.D. and Senator also receive a copy of the monthly publication which, for the past 28 years has been the voice of public and civil servants, highlighting the issues and challenging the status quo. The Castlebar editorial feature will highlight the town’s strongest selling points in terms of quality of life and family life, focussing on such aspects as the availability of third level education in the town, accessibility to multi-national shopping outlets such as Tesco, Aldi and Dunnes leisure facilties and the continuing industrial growth in the area.

Castlebar is a great place to live. It is small enough to be able to get around it quickly but big enough to have virtually everything you could want for day to day living. It has fantastic facilities, cultural, sporting and commercial for a town of its size. Bringing kids to football, swimming, music lessons or the cinema is not a long-distance commute as it might be in Dublin. Within a few minutes you are out in the country where you can avail of excellent hill-walking, bird-watching, fishing, shooting or whatever takes your fancy. We have many golf courses with relatively inexpensive membership and/or green fees. Lots of sports facilities - football - soccer and GAA, tennis, swimming, rugby, an athletics track, squash courts, racquetball and handball. There are lots of sporting organisations and social and cultural groups – for example, arts, music, theatre groups, film clubs and gardening - a really wide range of leisure groups. Anyone choosing to move to Castlebar would not be disappointed and certainly the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. The disadvantages? We don’t have a full-scale symphony orchestra (although we do have a concert orchestra and Music Network brings international musicians to Castlebar on a regular basis). We don’t have the Abbey and the Gate (but we do have lots of plays and shows at the TF and the Linenhall (as evidenced by Brian Friel this week). We don’t have UCD or TCD but we do have GMIT which now has a thousand students here in Castlebar including the top notch nursing school.

The Chamber of Commerce is right to try to attract civil servants to live Castlebar who might be decentralising to jobs in Knock, Kiltimagh and Claremorris. The Government’s official Spatial Strategy encouraged the build-up of a critical mass for Castlebar and Ballina. But the decentralisation announcement of Charlie McCreevy upended the Spatial Strategy in a cynical attempt at vote-getting in the local elections. Obviously, it failed in that particular aim – but the half-baked decentralisation announcement has more serious implications for towns like Castlebar. It ignored completely the already adopted government Spatial Strategy which aimed to provide areas of critical mass outside the greater Dublin area. Where does that leave people who invested in the town already on the basis that the government document on Spatial Strategy was not a joke document? The Castlebar-Ballina ‘axis of growth’ was identified by Mr McCreevy’s government as one of these regions for investment. The aim was stated as building up our critical mass sufficient to attract further inward investment into the region. Of course McCreevy then unilaterally threw the Spatial Strategy into the bin and started off on a round of thinly spread decentralisation ‘jam’ comprised of civil servants and state agencies. So Castlebar and Ballina somehow became an ‘axis of evil’ – i.e. to be ignored at all costs. "They already have civil servants so why should they want any more?" or "Who needs critical mass when FF needs votes?" The antithesis to Spatial Strategy is to spread these vote fodder people out as thinly as possible in order to garner as many local votes as possible. But I wonder will those living in the villages designated for this civil service ‘jam’ be delirious with happiness when they see new housing estates springing up around them or one-off houses being built and pouring traffic onto their once quiet and safe-to-walk-on rural roads? Perhaps they will be happy if they happen to be auctioneers, large landowners or developers?

I was talking to a friend who is a specialist technical person working for a state agency in Dublin. He has several degrees – in a highly specialised area. He saw his exact job advertised on the infamous central decentralisation applications website for some obscure village in West Cork or somewhere – a place he had almost never heard of. He has young children involved in local GAA teams in Dublin. They are settled into local schools and intend to go to university in Dublin. He is not going to move. But his job is there on the website apparently up for grabs for anyone who wants it – qualified or not. So I have this vision of an administrator who came from the remote village and who wants to return to home ending up with my friend’s job. This person will undoubtedly have a Leaving Cert and a perhaps even diploma in public administration from the IPA. But how can they handle the highly technical research questions that up to this required someone with a doctoral degree in one highly specialised area of science? Retraining? It would take a minimum of 10 years to reach the required qualifications needed before this man was even able to apply for his job. So we are looking at unqualified replacements taking over jobs that they are not qualified for and making decisions in an area that they know nothing about? The whole thing is a sick political joke.

Decision due on Castlebar development

THE fate of a proposed 80 bedroom hotel development along with a leisure centre, shopping mall and multi-storey car-park at Rock Square in Castlebar is to be decided next week when Castlebar Town Council makes a decision on the matter. The planning application has been a source of controversy within the town following the demolition of the Sisters of Mercy Convent and church on the site, which was carried out without notice to the council or people of the town. The parties behind the development are based in Donegal and include Mr. Paul Reynolds, Michael Hegarty and P. McDermott of McMenamin Leadley Partnership, New Line House, New Line Road, Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. They were granted planning permission for the development last year, subject to the payment of a 2.5 million euro levy, to cover the costs of building a new road at Barrack Bridge and also compensate for the demolition of the convent.

I still am appalled at the fact that five of the nine Town Councillors voted to literally give these developers a present of 1.4 million euros. How can they even contemplate opening themselves up to the kind of criticism that they received as a result of even trying to make this gift to the same crew who illegally demolished the old convent? Do they have any concept of what people thought given all the Dublin tribunals regarding politicians and planning? I hope the new town council have a more refined sense of the people’s perceptions of how planning matters should be handled by their elected representatives. There’s no doubt that developers will do what they want to do – develop – they will build the hotel. And if this particular group don’t then someone else will. 

Landfills losing money

Mayo County Council’s financial position has weakened in the last three years, according to County Manager, Des Mahon. In the county council’s annual financial statement for 2003, the shortfall in projected waste being treated at the Derriunmera and Rathroeen landfill sites has been identified as one of the factors which has weakened the council’s financial position, leading to a 2.3 million shortfall in projected income. A spokesperson for the County Council told The Mayo News this week that the landfill issue would have to be looked at and that it would be reviewed by the council shortly. The cost of delivering the Better Local Government programme and the cost of servicing overdrafts pending the receipt of government grants for capital development have also been identified as contributing factors. The annual financial statement also showed that the amount of borrowings by the Council increased by 18 million in 2003, due mainly to investment by the council in housing loans, landfill sites, water and sewage schemes and the Regional Training Centre. The council’s expenditure for 2003 was just over 230 million, with its income at 217 million.

The polluter pays principle means that those of us who use landfills in the county have to pay for them. I feel a price rise for waste charges coming on! The trouble is that we can no longer just fire our rubbish into a bin and have it tipped over the edge at Derrinumera for the sea gulls and rats to pick over. It costs money to secure and line the landfill in order to prevent it seeping out. Major – and expensive – engineering works are needed to prevent the landfill bursting out altogether and discharging mountains of plastic and semi-rotted vegetable peelings down into the local river and ending up in Lough Beltra, the Newport River and on into Clew Bay. Unfortunately this was a regular occurrence before the council got its act together. The landfill and recycling centre at Derrinumera is a brilliant facility. Hopefully we will soon have kerbside collections. If it means that we the polluters have to pay more I don’t see any alternative beyond ensuring that the whole waste management system is run as efficiently as possible.

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