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Burial plot price hike is suggested following cemetery services review

AN INCREASE in the cost of burial plots could be on the cards in a bid to boost resources for cemetery services in Clare.
Following a detailed review of burial ground management, the council’s rural policy committee was told that just half of the costs of running cemeteries is covered by the income generated.
The review, which was presented to the council’s rural policy committee, was conducted by former Fire Chief and Director of Services with Limerick City and County Council, Ollie O’Loughlin. It examined eight aspects of the operation of burial grounds in Clare.
Among the report’s recommendations is an increase in clerical and technical support for the Burial Ground Unit, something that could potentially be done by pooling resources with those for community playgrounds.
Mr O’Loughlin is also proposing a review of the bye-laws governing burial grounds in order to address issues including anti-social behaviour.
In addition, Mr O’Loughlin has recommended a licencing system for those working in graveyards, in order to ensure monuments conform with limitations on size; as well as an improved system of records management and better communication with the many community groups who maintain cemeteries.
The review involved extensive consultation with council staff, undertakers, sculptors, community groups and councillors.
It set out to look at the operation and maintenance of Clare’s cemeteries as well as funding, communication and issues affecting the delivery of the service.
Currently, the Burial Ground Unit has a staff of two to oversee eight different areas of operation. Mr O’Loughlin’s report concluded that services are delivered in a professional manner, but in “reactive mode” because of a lack of administrative and technical resources.
To fund an increase in resources, it was proposed that the council examine the possibility of increasing the cost of burial plots.
“About 50% of the cost of the unit comes from income and most of that from sale of plots,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“We now need to ask if we can increase our income. I’ve looked at the situation in other local authorities and we are behind our neighbours who charge significantly more [for plots].
“This is something that needs to be looked at and it needs to be considered in the budgetary process.”
Mr O’Loughlin added that if a licensing scheme was introduced for those working in graveyards, it might offer another opportunity to increase income.
“We could charge some kind of annual fee,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be exorbitant. There isn’t a huge scope to generate income besides those options.”
Mr O’Loughlin’s presentation to the council’s Rural Policy Strategic Policy Committee (SPC) also outlined how there are at least 160 documented burial grounds in the county.
Twenty-nine of these are in active use, and managed and operated by the council, while some of the others still have burials occasionally.
A total of 16 cemeteries are maintained by community groups who are supported with grant aid from the local authority. Legislation setting out responsibility for burial services dates to 1878, Mr O’Loughlin noted, with the most recent council bye-laws being drawn up in 2015.
Welcoming the report, Chairperson Councillor Pat Hayes commended the staff of the service and all of those who support it, either in the Municipal Districts and broader community.
“This is a very coherent and in-depth review of the system,” he said.
“The service poses a good bit of challenge in respect of the financial element and resources are the key. Thanks to Joe Spellisey and John Tracey for their great work to-date and to the previous incumbents.
“The whole cemetery process is changing. In Ennis, they’re making a handsome profit, I would say, out of the new columbarium wall.”
Denis Tuohy, the IFA representative on the SPC, described the report as “very interesting and well laid out”.
“In respect of resources, is there the possibility of incorporating the RSS Scheme?” he asked. “We have part-time farmers across the county who could provide a valuable asset.”
Councillor Shane Talty commended the report.
“If you were to commence a burial unit, you wouldn’t start from here,” he noted. He also urged that future bye-laws would take “a common sense approach”.
“We need to acknowledge the reality of tradition and the emotive nature of the topic,” he said. “Many families only interact once or twice in their lives with the unit and will require a common sense approach to the bye-laws.”
Councillor Pat Burke also applauded the report. Noting the recommendation on communication, he said: “We wouldn’t want it to be too heavy handed. There are certain traditions in rural graveyards.
“I welcome communication. It has to work both ways and can’t be heavy handed towards rural community traditions.”
The Whitegate man also commended council staff Bernie Haugh and John Treacy for visiting his local cemetery at Clonrush.
“That visit was followed by a successful application to the Community Monument Fund to renovate a church ruin there,” he said.
Councillor Hayes said it is vital to recognise the contribution of local communities. “They do need more support,” he said.
“It has to be acknowledged. The reality is that but for the community sector, our burial grounds wouldn’t be maintained to the current standard. They have a huge role. An enhancement of funding would be really beneficial.”
Director of Services Leonard Cleary thanked Mr O’Loughlin for his comprehensive review.
“A major part was a listening process and thanks to all who inputted, especially community and voluntary people who shared their life times of experience,” he said.
“Our approach is to take the pulse of the service before any review of the bye-laws so that we understand the challenges and issues. The review of the bye-laws is a statutory process. We’ll look at that over a number of months.”
A motion recommending a review of the bye-laws was proposed by Councillor Mary Howard and seconded by Councillor Burke.

About Fiona McGarry

Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald. Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti. She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at NUI Galway. If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at fmcgarry@clarechampion.ie or telephone 065 6864146.

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