ENNIS Town Council is facing legal bills totalling more than €500,000 defending two separate High Court challenges to national legislation and regulation.
A case involving a challenge to the Ennis Casual Trading Bylaws 2011 has resulted in an overall cost of €147,000 to the council. A separate challenge regarding the deregulation of taxis, currently awaiting decision in the High Court, is expected to cost around €400,000.
The figures were released during this week’s meeting of Ennis Town Council to agree its budget for 2014. Town manager Ger Dollard stated the council is “seriously concerned regarding the number of cases falling to the council to defend but representing a challenge to national legislation and regulation”.
Following a number of High Court hearings, the council secured a settlement in relation to the case taken regarding the Ennis Casual Trading Bylaws 2011, which represented a challenge to the Casual Trading Act 1995 and, in particular, the status of casual trading vis-a-vis market rights.
The council is still involved in the High Court case regarding the Government’s decision to deregulate taxis in 2000. A six-week hearing took place in November of last year, with a decision expected in the coming months.
The case has been taken against both the Minister for the Environment and the Attorney General, as well as a number of sample cases, including Dublin City Council and Ennis Town Council.
According to Mr Dollard, the council made efforts to run the case on a cost-effective basis, however the estimated costs are expected to be close to €400,000. The council recently received an interim bill from legal counsel for €191,000.
Mr Dollard stated he has been advised by Clare County Council that a sum of €250,000 will be made available from the Local Government Fund towards these costs. He added the council has “firmly put the view” to both the Department of the Environment and Department of Transport that the cost of cases involving challenges to national legislation and regulation “should not fall on the local authority”.
Mayor of Ennis Mary Coote Ryan stated the costs to the council in defending a national decision are “very unfair”. Councillor Peter Considine added putting the costs on the local authority would be “crippling”, while Councillor Tommy Brennan demanded that the Government pay the full cost.
It is envisaged the council will spend more than €9.5 million in 2014.
The budget meeting heard that commercial rates and parking charges are to remain unchanged in the town. It is expected that €5.4 million will be taken in by the council through commercial rates, with Mr Dollard stating that the collection levels continue to be a “major source of concern for the council”.
A number of changes to the budget were proposed at the meeting, including that the charge of 25c to use the public toilets be doubled to provide funding for the town’s defibrillator committee. This was rejected, however town clerk Leonard Cleary stated the committee could apply for funding under the community grants scheme.
A proposal to lower parking charges was also rejected, with council officials stating a 30c reduction would result in a loss of €270,000 to the town’s budget. It was agreed that an additional allocation be made to Ennis Tidy Towns from the mayoral allowance after the proposed abolition of Ennis Town Council in June.
Members of the council also voiced their support for making phase one of the planned upgrade of Ennis market the council’s “legacy project”. The project is currently in the Part 8 planning process, with initial estimates suggesting the proposal will have an overall cost of €1.5 million.