Spurred on by the unsightly mess of grass and weeds left uncut in Shannon, independent councillor Gerry Flynn has called on Clare County Council to allocate more resources to its gardening section to provide much-needed assistance to areas of the county “currently struggling to maintain the green infrastructure”.
In his motion at the local authority’s June meeting, Cllr Flynn complimented the gardeners for their work in gaining national recognition for the town of Ennis but insisted that other parts of the county merit a similar quality service.
“While I don’t begrudge Ennis for the work done there, unfortunately in my hometown of Shannon help is needed,” said Cllr Flynn.
Recalling the takeover of services from Shannon Development in 2004, he said that local infrastructure has suffered from a lack of maintenance because councillors at that time agreed to the change without any extra budgetary provision for services in the county’s second largest town.
While acknowledging the community and voluntary efforts to maintain the town in good order, Cllr Flynn wants the council to refocus on improving the situation so that there can be a fairer distribution of work by the gardening section.
A joint response from the director of physical development Carmel Kirby, and Leonard Cleary, the director of rural development, acknowledged the gardening section’s contribution to the success of Ennis in national and international competitions such as ‘Entente Florale’ and Tidy Towns. They also noted the significant part played during Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in 2016 and 2017.
The response states, “while it is not possible to develop a gardening presence in every town and village, Clare County Council’s head gardener is always available to advise Tidy Towns committees and local groups.”
It also notes: “various community groups and tidy towns groups have approached the rural development directorate to identify additional resources to provide gardening support services to rural towns and villages across the four Municipal Districts.
“The rural development and physical development directorates will work together to research such a proposal, and the funding of such, for other districts throughout the county.”
Supporting the motion, Cllr PJ Ryan said it is very important for the council to create a good impression for visitors to our towns and villages as this showcases the county in a very positive light.
Cllr Ryan also urged the council to appoint someone to oversee outside contractors. Describing grass-cutting in Shannon as “a total disgrace”, he said the council needs to ensure that contractors do the work they are paid for.
Ennis councillor Johnny Flynn supported the motion with reservations as he is concerned that gardening resources could be taken away from his town to provide services elsewhere in the county. “I wouldn’t like to see further asset-stripping of the county town,” he said.
Cllr Cathal Crowe claimed that a form of apartheid is practised in the county as the council provides free grass-cutting in many residential areas while homeowners in newer estates must take responsibility themselves.
Kilrush councillor Ian Lynch commented that it is difficult for Tidy Towns committees in other parts of the county to compete for tourists when they can’t access the same quality of services available in Ennis.
Cllr Richard Nagle claimed that unlimited resources are spent maintaining Ennis while other towns and villages depend on voluntary effort, Tidy Towns committees and Tús schemes.
He suggested that if it is not possible to expand the gardening section, the council should increase grants to all voluntary committees in towns and villages throughout the county.
Director of rural development, Leonard Cleary, said the council wants to put together a proposal on this matter and is looking at the Community Support Scheme for increased funding opportunities to the voluntary sector.
Carmel Kirby is to consider what is being done at present, she said the council will endeavour to make a bigger contribution in future to all of the county.
In conclusion, Cllr Gerry Flynn said the rest of County Clare shares in the success of Ennis. While the narrow focus on enhancing the county town has indeed produced results, Cllr Flynn said he does not want to diminish that.
He believes tourism is crucial for County Clare, so therefore the expertise of the gardening section in Ennis must be replicated across the county.
“The day is gone when you could turn to the community and voluntary sector. Since the introduction of the property tax the public has a greater expectation of receiving better local authority services, we need to actively engage to enhance these services.”