That budget strategy and LPT (local property tax) meeting in Tralee on Monday, where management’s and Fine Gael’s call for a 5 per cent increase over the baseline was rejected, made for interesting listening.
The increase would have brought an extra €700,000 on the €13.8 million netted by the council from the tax and the extra financial contribution would be on average between €4.50 and €11.25 per house.
Not that the verbal contributions reached Shakespearean heights, but I was reminded of that Shakespearean quote from the very politic Polonius in Hamlet “by indirection find direction out.”
For anyone with half a brain, between the lines and in the telling was the story of a clear division between the wholehearted attention Tralee/Listowel are getting and, dare I say it, the scant regard for Killarney.
Eight of the ten Fianna Fáil councillors voted against the increase sought by FG/management, as did the four Sinn Féin councillors. Independents were split on the vote.
Tellingly, the two Fianna Fáil councillors who broke ranks were from the Listowel area. They were clearly delighted with the works being undertaken in greenways and bypasses and roads and tourism investment and the various improvements in north Kerry villages and in Listowel.
Tralee councillors seemed equally chuffed. And even some of the Tralee councillors who voted against the increase had high praise for “their” council.
And it is very much “their council”. This is a council for Tralee and north Kerry, it is not doing near enough for Killarney and I base my case, without fear of contradiction, on the very document presented to the meeting where the infrastructural projects of both towns were presented in black and white and in just as stark contrast.
Sinn Féin’s Pa Daly, voting against, went so far as to say “all the good the council do is in this document”. He gave examples of the Tralee greenway now going ahead, the homeless unit, and other works. And tellingly, the Tralee councillor said the council are “the primary driver of festivals in the county”. Of course he was referring to the heavy sponsorship and backing of the Rose of Tralee, of the annual food and bloom festivals, not to mention that every single tourism attraction in Tralee is propped up by council staff and council money.
Finally, Cllr Daly lavished praise on the multi-million euro works by the council in Tralee town centre.
There was clear sense at the meeting that Killarney and south Kerry were not happy. Yet only half of the Killarney councillors voted down the increase. However, Cllrs Cronin and Healy-Rae voted against, as did Cllrs Culloty and Kelleher.
“For the last five years it’s talking, talking, talking and nothing happening,” Cllr Cronin said, referring to lack of progress on everything from car parking to potholes.
In the budget strategy documents, a list of projects per municipal district were outlined. But these are the same projects that have been on the agenda with years, Killarney councillors said.
This is the list Killarney councillors were presented with for the town area:
Commencement of the Lewis Road/Áras Phádraig master plan redevelopment (appointment of a project manager underway); Cultural Centre development (tender process being finalised); Progression of the Lough Leane Loop (overall route corridor being finalised); the Flesk Walkway (project shovel ready); Rock Road Car Park (planning approved by members, potential funding application under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund).
Now remember that Killarney contributes more in rates than Tralee, not to mention the €800,000 the Killarney car parks yield to the council.
Now compare the project list for Tralee. These are projects where teams of council officials are involved in getting funding and drawing designs etc; there is massive consultation and huge council and State money and council time, all council led and look closely at my underlined words between the brackets:
Island of Geese (master plan on display, demolition works ongoing); Town Centre Enhancement Scheme (Phase 1, Denny St and the Mall complete); Phase 2 Russell Street etc (preliminary design and costings complete); Tralee-Fenit Greenway (shovel ready); Tralee Fenit Route (phase 1 completed in 2018; land acquisition being advanced); Mitchel’s Regeneration (85 per cent of overall project completed, housing units near completion others advanced and further facilities being advanced).
Clash to Ballymullen Link Road serving new Gaelcholáiste (planning approved and funding source to be identified); Tralee Northern Relief Road (Part 8 planning approved, land acquisition being advanced).
There is only one thing shovel ready in Killarney, everything else here is “-ing” and being – on the long finger in other words – and there is little or nothing actually “-ed” or completed.
Given the black and white document in front of their eyes, given the strongly worded statement from the normally cautious Killarney Chamber of Commerce and Tourism only last week that the town’s whole tourism industry is threatened by the lack of progress by the local authority on relief roads and car parks, how could three Killarney townish councillors, Cllr Michael Gleeson, Cllr Donal Grady and Cllr John Sheahan vote to take even more money out of the pockets of Killarney people no matter how little?
That’s a question that must be asked on the doorsteps around the town next May, methinks. Local councillors are not global ambassadors. With the loss of the town councils they are not even county representatives – they are above all elected locally to represent their local areas.
Their vote is their power – and especially so when the case for Killarney is so strong and so stark. Cllr Grady himself said, “We are not getting our fair share in Killarney and I apologise to no-one for saying that.”
Cllr Gleeson spoke loftily about the fundamental nature of Irish politics and the “aggrandisement of power” and also spoke about the stagnant Lough Leane Loop; Cllr Sheahan spoke about there being no dent in the projects in Killarney and the need for outdoor staff. But all three voted for the increase.