SUCH is the workload of the significantly reduced number of people working out of the Clare County Council office in Ennistymon, it has been claimed that the three people employed there don’t have time to take a lunch break.
Councillor Richard Nagle told the meeting of the West Clare Municipal District in Kilrush that it is virtually impossible for the staff there to provide a complete service to the people of North Clare, despite their best efforts. He predicted a “calamity” if this issue is not addressed.
Councillor Nagle forwarded a motion at the meeting requesting that Clare County Council review staffing levels at the Ennistymon Municipal District offices.
“I am not suggesting that officers in Ennistymon are not working efficiently. They certainly are. They are being put under intolerable pressure. If I wish to speak to somebody, I won’t ring. I’ll drive in because they are so busy in there that they simply haven’t time to be dealing with somebody like me. It isn’t that they won’t or they don’t want to, it’s just that they haven’t got the time,” the Liscannor county councillor told the meeting.
“There are only three staff there and they’re ran off their feet. They can’t take a lunch break. We have been extremely fortunate that since these changes, we have have very mild winters. But if we met severe floods or severe storms and frosts, as we have previously, it wouldn’t be possible for people to deal with the issues that would arise.
“This issue is going to have to be addressed. There is a calamity waiting to happen and when it happens, we won’t have the resources to deal with it,” Councillor Nagle starkly predicted.
He maintained that currently staffing levels are simply not acceptable.
“That office was opened because at the time it was bringing services closer to the people and it was intended to provide a proper and adequate service to the people of what was then the Ennistymon Electoral Area. Effectively, that old area is still there, except it was added on to what was the old Kilrush Electoral Area and got a new title, the West Clare Municipal District.
“We ended up with half the county, 47%, in this new district. What happens? The area office, in Ennistymon, is down-graded to a service centre and over half of the staff are moved into Ennis. There is no cognisance taken of the geographical area that we’re supposed to be covering. The needs of the population are still the same. We had three engineers in Ennistymon. Now we have one, who is effectively covering the exact same geographical area that a senior engineer and an executive engineer covered before.
“With the best will in the world and the greatest dedication in the world, it’s not possible for one senior executive engineer and two area engineers to cover that geographical landmass,” Councillor Nagle claimed, referring to the stretch of West and North Clare from Loop Head to Ballyvaughan.
He was supported by all councillors, including Councillor Michael Hillery, in asking for a review of staffing levels in Ennistymon.
“We need extra staffing, that’s the bottom line. Our staffing in the district was halved. Are the existing staffing levels adequate? I don’t think they are,” municipal district chairman Christy Curtin said.
Councillor Ian Lynch said staffing levels in the Kilrush council office have also been reduced.
“They are terrible conditions to work in and that’s not right,” he said of the increased workload faced by council staff.
In a written reply, Clare County Council said while staffing is under review, they had not heard of any issue resulting from staffing changes.
“The structures and arrangements outlined by the chief executive in April 2014 have been put in place and are operational since the establishment of the municipal district last June. There have been no reports of adverse customer response since these revised arrangements commenced,” Siobhán O’Keeffe, human resources, said in a written reply.
“Since the revised arrangements commenced, the council has monitored activity levels in each of the municipal districts offices, including the Ennistymon service centre. This information is currently being reviewed by the council and it is expected that this process will have concluded in the coming weeks,” the reply added.
Councillor Nagle asked that the staffing review report be made available to the September meeting of the municipal district.
Councillors are adamant that a second senior executive engineer is needed in the area, which is largely coastal and covers 47% of the county.
However, the council maintain that at present all staff at senior executive engineer level are assigned to full-time roles across the various sections of Clare County Council. The assignment of senior executive engineers to the various municipal districts were linked to the transfer of the water services function to Irish Water and the centralisation of the management of the council’s water service operation to Ennis. This removed the responsibility for water services from the senior executive engineers in the municipal districts.
The council say that competitions are currently underway through the Public Appointments Service for appointments to the engineering grades of senior executive engineer and senior engineer but the local authority will have to await the outcome of these competitions at national level before
any decision on resources at the grade of senior executive engineer can be made. It is expected that these competitions will be concluded in September or October.
At present, Clare County Council does not have departmental approval for the appointment for an additional senior executive engineer and there is no available budget provision for an appointment.