ANNOYANCE at the exclusion of local authority chiefs from the new Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce, was expressed in no uncertain terms at this month’s County Council meeting.
Strong concern was expressed that the Chief Executive of Clare County Council has not been included on the group, and that his counterparts in Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary have also been snubbed.
Chief Executive Pat Dowling told councillors that he had gone so far as to formally apply for a place on the taskforce, but that his application had been rejected. That is despite the fact that local authorities have been identified as key stakeholders in the development of the Estuary.
In a joint motion, Councillors Ian Lynch, Cillian Murphy and Johnny Flynn called on the Tánaiste to include local authority heads. A separate motion from Councillor Flynn also asked that the potential of the Fergus Estuary be included under its remit.
Councillor Murphy said there were several concerns over the taskforce. “The Shannon Estuary is one of most environmentally sensitive areas in Europe,” he said.
“I am amazed at lack of representation from local authorities, given their climate action and adaptation role. Councils are conspicuous by their absence. How are the different social, environmental and economic factors to be balanced? I cannot see anyone on the taskforce to advocate on behalf of the environment over economic opportunity.
“The communities along the Estuary must also be considered. The terms of reference focus on primarily on economic development. Literally, anything this taskforce wants to know about in terms of logistics, tourism, etc, is already in the hands of the local authority. Those with an in-depth working knowledge of local development plans should be involved at the earliest stages.”
Councillor Lynch said he too had “grave concerns”. “I just don’t see that all of the necessary skillsets are included, he said. “The taskforce will have to go back to Council for implementation on its objectives. It would make total sense to get Councils on board from the start. I don’t see any representation either for rural West Clare.”
Councillor Flynn said that after the taskforce was unveiled, he had written to Leo Varadkar to ask that the Fergus Estuary also be included under the five objectives of the group. “The Fergus Estuary has huge potential,” he said. “Clare County Council has shown leadership with Strategic Integrated Framework Plan for the Shannon Estuary (SIFP). This works with adjoining local authorities.”
Councillor Flynn said the Fergus Estuary should be included up to the Clarecastle coastal barrage.
“This was covered by the SIFP and it makes sense to include it when looking at the development of the Shannon Estuary. The National Development Plan (NDP), which makes provision for the new taskforce, identified €165 billion worth of public investment. It also states that this will generate 80,000 jobs per annum. We have to make sure the Clare side gets a fair crack. There is also the Roche opportunity site and wetlands opportunity site to consider. There is great potential all along the Clare shore.”
Mr Dowling told the meeting that he had formally applied for a position on the taskforce, as had his counterpart in Limerick. “I received a reply to say thank me for my interest,” he said. I was then told the taskforce does not include members of government departments, state agencies or local authorities. I was also told the work of the taskforce would rely on key stakeholders, including relevant local authorities, and that they looked forward to engaging. We were very surprised that representative of the four local authorities are not to be included directly.”
Mr Dowling who chairs the SIFP noted that that body has been referenced in the NDP as an example of best practice.
“It is upwards and onwards now,” he said. “The four chiefs met with the chair of taskforce last week. Barry O’Sullivan is formerly of Johnson and Johnson. We left him under no illusion about our absolute unhappiness at the exclusion of county councils.
“The first meeting of the taskforce was last Friday. It is clear that there’s an alignment about prioritising renewable energy. That’s the focus. We don’t want taskforce to be just an exercise in doing a report with nothing come from it. We want it to have real teeth and want to be involved. The taskforce chair is well aware of our sentiments.”
Councillor Murphy described the treatment of the chiefs as “almost risible”.
Councillor Flynn said it was important to acknowledge the work of Mr Dowling and his predecessors. “We need to push politically,” he added. “We will make representations about membership and the inclusion of Fergus Estuary.”
In detailed responses, Helen Quinn, Senior Planner described the motions as “important and timely”.
She also said it is “reasonable for Clare County Council to further emphasise that the potential of the Fergus Estuary is included in the consideration of the 5 key objectives set out for consideration by Government to the recently formed Shannon Estuary Economic Taskforce Motion”.