COMMUNITY playgrounds are facing huge hurdles in securing insurance cover, with the county council being urged to step in to support them.
The matter was raised at this month’s meeting of Clare County Council, where Councillors Cillian Murphy, Ian Lynch and Joe Garrihy tabled a motion calling for new playgrounds and those whose policies had lapsed to be taken in under the council’s policy.
“We could soon be looking at two-tier communities,” Councillor Murphy said. “Those who have community playgrounds and those who don’t, if this situation isn’t resolved. This is a grossly unfair and utterly risible situation.”
The Fianna Fáil member said he was aware of two community groups who would not be able to draw down their core funds for playground facilities, if they are unable to get insurance cover. “In one case a group has spent €275,000 and is ready to go, but the playground has to have insurance cover,” he said. “Significant time and energy has been spent on the developments and, as we know, young families are essential to sustain communities. Playgrounds are vital in that regard. We, as a council, are spending huge money on rural development, and rightly so, but without facilities, we won’t have sustainable communities.”
Councillor Murphy expressed dissatisfaction with the official response to his motion, which outlined that because the council does not own or lease the facilities, it does not have an insurable interest in them.
Councillor Joe Garrihy said he had been involved with great communities who had give enormous commitment in terms of developing local facilities. The Fine Gael member noted that the playground in Lisdoonvarna is due to re-open this Friday after having to raise a huge amount of money. “During the period of Covid-19 alone, the committee has had to try to find €25,000,” he noted. “We must meet those involved. We certainly don’t want to be in a situation where we have to be returning €500,000 in funding because of insurance issues.”
Councillor Clare Colleran Molloy said there seemed to be a lack of willingness to be creative in the executive’s response to the cross-party motion. “As a representative on the IPB (Irish Public Bodies), I have contacted their director with a view to them contacting the council,” she said. “Other local authorities have more flexible arrangements. Nobody is intending that the council would incur extra costs.” Councillor Colleran Molloy said the lack of resources also referenced in a formal response from Director of Rural Development Leonard Cleary needed to be addressed.
Councillor PJ Ryan described the motion as “very timely”. “This is an issue that needs to be seriously looked at,” he said. “I am aware of playgrounds with no insurance and no management structure and they are on lands owned by the council. If there was to be a claim, the legal eagles would go after everyone with any involvement including Clare County Council.”
Councillor PJ Kelly said he was aware of a premium of €3,500 being paid to cover a playground in his area. “This playground has visitors from outside too, including a certain Councillor Flynn,” he quipped. Joking that it wasn’t him who had been on a swing in Lissycasey, Councillor Tony O’Brien noted that committees were dwindling with fewer people available to volunteer.
Green Party Councillor Susan Crawford stressed the importance of physical exercise and noted that playgrounds are also a place for adults to meet.
The issue of anti-social behaviour at certain playgrounds was highlighted by Councillor John Crowe, while Councillor Patrick O’Gorman said that he had given €7,000 from his discretionary fund, the General Municipal Allocation (GMA) to help the playground in Cratloe.
Chief Executive Pat Dowling said the role of the authority is to empower local communities. He said that Covid-19 had revealed a lot of challenges and that some recreational amenities were now struggling. “There is a sizeable task in the context of where we are now,” he said, noting that there are 24 community playgrounds in the county. “We have to step into the breach around public health and mental well-being. That is now our duty, more and more, going forward. Pools and playgrounds are running into difficulty. We may need to take a new approach and members would have to agree to funding into the future. The county council can’t take on all of them as that would be very onerous financially.”
Mr Dowling said that he would ask Mr Cleary to conduct an audit of the “pinch points” for such amenities.
Councillor Murphy replied that it was only a small number of playgrounds that needed help. “Some communities can’t get a foot on the first rung of the ladder. We have to be able to provide a safety net.”