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Councillors jockey for position in €50m funding queue

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“WHO will you save?” a member of the Council asked, during a discussion on which Clare village will be put forward first tor a slice of a €50 million fund for wastewater infrastructure. 

Councillor Gerry Flynn was speaking in support of a motion from Councillors Joe Garrihy, Shane Talty and Bill Chambers. The three West Clare members asked for clarity on the funding criteria. 

Councillor Garrihy welcomed the national funding allocation “as a first effort to address lack of provision of waste water treatment in rural areas”. “I commended the Chief Executive and Council staff for pushing this,” he said. “We are now looking for the criteria, targets and the bar that towns and villages have to meet to put themselves in the frame for this funding. Has there been a town or village in Clare selected? There are four in Clare waiting: Doolin, Carrigaholt, Broadford and Cooraclare.”

The Lisdoonvarna said Doolin’s economic development is held back due to lack of a wastewater treatment plan (WWTP). “Places are straining at the leash to deliver further economic and social benefits,” he said. “I would like to see the Council take a lead role. We are in the game, thanks to everyone concerned. What I would also like to know is are we going to bring all of our towns and villages in?”

Councillor Talty said he also welcomed the scheme. “This is a four-year programme,” he pointed out. “Realistically, it might deliver ten WWTPs around the country. It is imperative that whatever town or village we put forward meets the criteria. We could list dozens of towns. All of them will be looking to see the criteria. There needs to be clarity and transparency on how decisions are arrived at.”

Councillor Joe Killeen added his support. “This is like looking for the rules of a football match,” he said. “You need to have an idea in order to be able to play. This is a four-year scheme and the number of millions is generous, all things being equal. We want towns in Clare to be in the first tranche of those chosen. We want to put our best foot forward.”

Councillor Gabriel Keating said that Carrigaholt had been waiting for decades for a WWTP. “Mayo is waiting since 51 and theyre all talking,” he said. “Carrigaholt is unique. There are 25,000 visitors passing through village every year and we dont have a public toilet. We dont want to wait. We want it done in Year One.”

Councillor Joe Cooney noted that there are 50 settlements in Clare in need of WWT infrastructure.

The Killaloe Municipal District quipped: “Could we got in alphabetical order?”.

Councillor Pat Hayes thanked Minister Darragh OBrien for the initiative. “This is the start of the process,” he said. “There has been many a false dawn to get funding. The key criteria is that this is multi-annual. Whatever is ready at the time will decide.”

Councillor Pat Burke seconded the suggestion that villages be selected in alphabetical order. 

“I believed it was €50m for Year One,” he said. “Now, I understand that it is not, it’s a total of €50m over four years. I am disappointed and asking for clarity. I genuinely thought it was an allocation for one year.”

Council Chief Executive Pat Dowling acknowledged members’ comments and views. 

“Before we get to inadequacies, lets also remember that we had no control over WWPTs until the scheme was announced,” he said.

“It was argued very strongly with the Minister to get a bit of control back. The only way was to introduce a demonstration project. Each area is asked to submit up to two projects. This is far from perfect, but better than where we were a year ago. Clare was at the front of the posse that went after the minister on this one – and caught up with him. Now at least theres a measure.

“Demonstration projects will be key. Everyone want one in their own area. We have got to show that our demonstration of this new programme is an outstanding success in County Clare. Then, and only then, can we achieve more funding. Were beginning to regain a bit of control of the infrastructure in our rural communities. This is no more or no less than that.”

Mr Dowling added that all of the detail of funding criteria will be discussed and agreed at a workshop later this month.

“These projects will need to be shovel-ready as soon as possible,” he said. “We may come back to those four as a starting point. At September meeting, we will come back to say who will go forward first. This is a small start to a very big problem. It is a foot in the door that was locked firmly in our face. The team at Clare County Council had a lot to do with getting scheme introduced.”

Councillor Gerry Flynn thanked to Senior Engineer Cyril Feeney. “The question I have is how far this minuscule amount of money go? he said. “As the Gospel says,Who will you save?.”

Mr Feeney said the new initiative was “a good step forward”. “We have a long way to go,” he said.

“With the circular on the scheme, there was a larger document with criteria. The Department will hold a workshop in the coming weeks. I have spoken with other colleagues across the Southern Region who have many questions. Until we have that, its a bit premature to be talking about what villages or towns we will be putting forward. We need to put forward our best shot.

“The initiative will offer €50m over four years. Our understanding is that many schemes will be announced on the basis that some will progress faster than others, if they have benefit of planning or detailed design. As schemes come through process, funding will ramp up to accommodate the construction phase. At the back end of the year, we expect announcements. We will get clarity in coming weeks.”

Mr Dowling added there was one further matter, the issue that government no longer funds 100% of costs on capital projects. “There is very likely to be an allocation needed from the Council,” he said. “All our capital work is done in this way.”

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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