A DISPUTE between Clare County Council and Darragh O’Connor, the proprietor of the Texaco station in Shannon, came to a head last week when the water at his business was disconnected.
While the matter has since been resolved, Mr O’Connor claims the county council’s actions put 15 jobs at risk, while the decision to cut off the water has also been severely criticised by county councillors Sean McLoughlin and Gerry Flynn.
However, in a statement, Clare County Council defended its actions and stated that disconnecting water is the last option it looks at.
Mr O’Connor said the water at the station was cut off after 11pm on Thursday night when the station closed and 6.30am the following morning, when it reopened.
The problem was resolved after a sum of €6,400 was paid and normal service was restored on Friday.
Mr O’Connor acknowledged that around €20,000 had been owed but claimed the dispute had arisen because the council have failed to provide him with relevant documents.
“My problem, as I’ve said before, is all that I want to see is the contract between myself and Clare County Council, where they come out and say to me ‘Darragh, here’s your meter, as you can see it’s set at zero, sign here and we’ll charge you for water.’ They can’t give me that document and the reason being is that none exists. I’ve always argued the amount of water and the cost of it,” he said.
He claimed that the first bill he had received from the council “was huge”. However, the council stated, “Under Government policy, all non-domestic premises must pay for water. Customers are billed based on their metered usage. Customers receive detailed bills outlining opening and closing meter readings for the relevant billing period.”
In their statement, Clare County Council said it wouldn’t comment on an individual matter but all options are exhausted prior to disconnection.
“Businesses that have and will face disconnection have not paid outstanding bills or agreed to a payment arrangement to clear the liability. Having endeavoured to get engagement from the businesses concerned, Clare County Council, as the water services authority, cannot continue to provide these services. The disconnection of water services to these businesses is being carried out in accordance with local government legislation.
“The decision to disconnect water supplies is not taken lightly but is the only remaining option. In recognising our customers who pay for their water charges, Clare County Council must take action against those who refuse to enter into a pay arrangement to pay for their usage and arrears. All customers whose water supply is being disconnected are provided with notice of disconnection.”
Mr O’Connor said that after the disconnection, he agreed to pay the council the sum of €6,400 up front, €5,000 off the arrears and a €1,400 reconnection fee.
He said he has not ignored the issue and he also criticised the level of commercial rates, which add to the burden of the water charges.
“They said I ignored them on several occasions. I have letters that prove I haven’t ignored the situation. I’m not happy about the situation. Also, you have to remember, they want €21,500 a year off me for commercial rates and then the water is separate and they want €20,000 for that. How can I survive in business if I have to come up with €800 a week for that?”
Mr O’Connor said he had spoken to the council about the rates bill, which he is scathing of.
“I’ve had numerous meetings up in Ennis where I’ve said I can’t afford to pay €21,500 a year to ye for nothing. They say to me you’re getting lights outside on the road. I don’t have lights outside my garage on the road. I’m not getting value for money.”
He also spoke of his disgust at seeing reports and pictures of Clare officials visiting New York at St Patrick’s Day, while demanding significant amounts of money from business.
Councillor Sean McLoughlin said he was very unhappy with Clare County Council’s decision to cut off the water.
“It was completely out of order to cut it off on Friday morning, leaving him without water at the weekend. Some kind of negotiation should have taken place and if the councillors had known, we could have helped with it.”
Independent Councillor Gerry Flynn said that the council had taken part in “an early morning raid”. “I don’t think it’s the way that Clare County Council should do their job.”
He said the matter should have gone to arbitration and he was very disappointed with how the council had behaved.
“I don’t support it and it’s actions like those that make me embarrassed to be in the council.”