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Councillors have ‘status of poodles’

ELECTED members of Clare County Council have “the status of poodles” in the eyes of local authority officials, one councillor has claimed.

 

Councillor Joe Arkins was criticising the level of information given to elected members of the council by the executive in relation to the recent pollution of groundwater from the Kilfenora sewerage plant.

Councillor Arkins tabled a motion at a North Clare area meeting looking for additional information on nine points in relation to the pollution and the way it was dealt with by the council. Councillor Arkins claimed the council had not adequately responded to his questions.
The Ruan man asked the council why area members were not briefed as events unfolded.

“The members were briefed by email from Sean Lenihan SEE on June 5 and the matter was discussed subsequently when raised by members with various officials. A press brief was issued by Sean Ward in which he indicated that the council’s concentration of effort was more focussed on a solution of the problem locally and devising a means of alternative water supply at the time,” said a response from Anthony McNamara, action senior engineer, water services.

Councillor Arkins claimed the notice councillors received in relation to the pollution could be described as “a brief email on June 5”. He asked when the decision was taken and by whom to use the tracer in the system.

A written response from Mr McNamara stated that tracing of the waters sinking in the swallow hole at Ballybreen was initially carried out in August 2011. He said a more localised study was subsequently carried out in March/April this year.

Responding to a question by Councillor Arkins in relation to when the tracer was found in neighbouring wells, Mr McNamara stated the tracer study was made available to Clare County Council in early April 2012, adding “the study provided evidence of a link between the Ballybreen swallow hole and the groundwater source for four private wells in the area”.

Mr McNamara also pointed out in his written response that “outfall from Kilfenora Waste Water Treatment Plant has been discharged to ground via the Ballybreen swallow hole since the 1970s”.

According to Mr McNamara, “A meeting was arranged with senior HSE personnel for April 24 to discuss the situation and seek advice on the matter”. Boil notices were issued the following day.
Councillor Arkins sought information on the current position in relation to the licence for the Kilfenora sewerage system. Mr McNamara stated the council wrote to the EPA on June 7 last in response to correspondence it had received (dated March 27, 2012) from the EPA in relation to Waste Water Discharge Authorisation.

Councillor Arkins wanted to know specifically the legal position regarding the corporate and individual responsibility of officers and elected members of the local authority, having regard to the 2009 EU groundwater regulations and other statutory instruments.

Mr McNamara’s response did not satisfy Councillor Arkins, who said he was “very disappointed”.
It stated, “The legal position is that Clare County Council must comply with SI No 9/2010 – European Communities Environmental Objectives (Groundwater) Regulations 2010, which prohibits direct discharges of pollutants into groundwater. A mechanism to accomplish this will be agreed with the EPA as part of the WWDA application ref A 0079 – 01.”

Councillor Arkins asked what proposals exist to rectify the pollution issue in the short, medium and long term. He also requested a progress report on the installation of a replacement supply to affected householders and estimated costs.

“A meeting is being arranged with EPA personnel and this is anticipated to occur within the next two or three weeks. Pipe laying to connect the Lemenagh GWS to the public supply commenced on June 25. The expected completion date is [the end of this week]. Costs are estimated to be in excess of €60,000. Provision will be made for connections to this pipeline for the affected households,” Mr McNamara concluded.

Councillor Arkins said he is angry at “the disrespect shown for the elected members in this case,” adding, “as far as the officials are concerned we have the status of poodles and if we don’t have it, we should have.

“We are entitled to be kept up to date as events unfold,” the Fine Gael councillor said. He claimed that not notifying councillors when there are problems “shows a blatant disregard for elected members”.

Councillor Michael Kelly from Tubber labelled it as “embarrassing” for councillors when they are not notified about council actions.

“It is a bit embarrassing to be left out of the loop on an issue of vital importance,” he said, calling for the council to issue text messages to councillors in cases like this. This was echoed by councillors Arkins and Richard Nagle.

Council official Eddie Power, who attended the meeting, stated it is standard practice to notify councillors and that it was regretful that it did not happen in this case. “We will ensure that in the future this will happen,” he said.

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