South Donegal being left behind!

Cllrs express frustration at the levels of council monies being spent on the southern part of the county

Donegal County Council

Donegal County Council

Claims that south Donegal was the forgotten part of the county, inaction over recent flooding problems, bridge repairs and frustration at the lack of progress over the question of separate fire stations for Ballyshannon and Bundoran left local politicians seeing red at Monday's special council meeting in Lifford.

It had been called to consider the Three year capital Programme 2020-2022 but representatives from all parts took the opportunity to leave the council's officers in no doubt that they were far from happy with the share out of the cash for the coming years.

The council is required on an annual basis to prepare and consider a three year capital programme and this one related to the period 2020-2022 inclusive.

The acting director of service for finance, Richard Gibson, explained the background to the programme saying it was prepared having regard to the amount of capital funding that was already confirmed from internal and external sources and, as was the case in the majority of the 2021 and 2022 projections, based on best estimates available at this time.

He said in that context it was estimated that the council's total capital expenditure for 2020 would be of the order of €157,001,777 with capital expenditure  for the three-year period estimated to exceed €0.5 billion

He added the cash amount for next year was also conditional on a range of factors and assumptions including the allocation of grants, level of Development Contribution Scheme (DCS) collectable, loan sanction  approval from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the availability of co-financing.

Cllr Michéal Naughton said while he welcomed proposals in relation to housing construction in Donegal town, Bundoran, Ballyshannon and Killybegs contained a number of issues he could not believe there was no provision for dealing with the flooding included.

"It's the one big issue we have in the south of the county and there isn't a mention of Donegal town. I don't know what has to happen, do we have to be washed out in the pier before we get any work done. It was only a few short months ago that we had families moving out of their homes for a third time because of the flooding."

He criticised the non-appearance for over two years of the Minister of State for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief, Kevin 'Boxer' Moran TD.

He described the allocation for bridge management in his part of the county as "peanuts".

"It's a disgrace. We're not talking about building bridges here, we're talking about simple things like walls for safety. We have bridges lying for over two years that have not been touched. All we want is simple maintenance work," he said.

He also criticised the fact the Ballyshannon to Belleek Greenway had not been mentioned in the programme.

"I might sound a bit idsrespectful but it seems to me that south Donegal has been forgotten in this capital programme, " he claimed.

The Fianna Fail councillor then touched on the problems with the Ballyshannon-Bundoran fire stations situation. He said they told in the programme that the council was waiting to meet with the minister about the issue. He pointed out the local rate payers were "keeping the council going" yet were not able to have a proper fire service.

"Are we going to go back to the people of Ballyshannon and Bundoran and tell them they don't deserve fire safety. We had one of the worst fires in this county in Bundoran many years ago, nobody wants to go back to those dark days again but we require two stations, " he said.

Fine Gael's Cllr Barry Sweeney slammed  what he described as a lack of expenditure in the Ballyshanon and south Donegal area in general, he raised the ongoing controversy over the location of fire stations in the Ballyshannon and Bundoran areas. Locals want one in each town, the department think differently.

"And as Cllr Naughton alluded to, one of the big issues is the question of the fire stations. The option posed by the chief fire officer is the wrong option. No matter which way you dress it up, it reduces the fire cover in the area and the services and that is not what the plan sets out to do.

"We do not need to reduce them, we need to retain and improve our services to the area. By choosing one location, which is very close to the Leitrim border is ridiculous. Why should the fire fighters of Ballyshannon be forgotten about. The option of a single fire station in each location should be looked at - not just in Bundoran," he said.

Cllr Sweeney produced a map to the meeting which he claimed showed the ballyshannon fire crew covered an area of 177 square kilometres in Donegal while Bundoran only covered 15 square kilometres within the county.

"We're not looking at improving the fire service for north Leitrim and Sligo, this is about improving the service within Donegal. I think this is a flawed report, I think the recommendation of the chief fire officer should be scrapped. People feel so strongly about this and they are not backing down. The two fire station options is the best option.

He added this was not a "Ballyshannon thing", it was about the safety of the citizens in south Donegal. He added it would also affect the fire stations in Donegal town as Ballyshannon provided it with cover.

"We need action now and not be waiting for the minister to meet another delegation," he said. 

Cllr Michael McMahon (SF) described the impasse over the fire stations situation in Ballyshannon and Bundoran as "a disgrace to say the least". He said both worked well together but Bundoran's area took in Rossinver, Cliffoney grange and other hinterlands in north Leitrim and Sligo.

"Then we have the situation in Bundoran where the population to be looked after rises from 10,000 up to 20,000 in the summer season. I'm very upset after all the meetings and talk we've had over the years that we've got nowhere with this. The people of Bundoran and ballyshannon will be disappointed that we couldn't get the job done. the people want two fire stations and have said it on many occasions," he said.

Cllr McMahon also drew attention to Lennox's bridge between Bundoran and Kinough saying it was a bridge built for horses and carts but was now just too dangerous to let remain as it was.

"The amount of accidents is increasing, there were four over the past week. no one has been killed but there are accidents waiting to happen everyday. People will get seriously hurt or worse, killed, if nothing is done and I don't see it even properly mentioned in the new capital programme. This bridge was never meant for the amount of traffic on this part of the road," he said.

He said he was also disappointed there had been no mention in the programme of small rural towns like Ballintra, Laghey and Pettigo.

"The decline in these towns is unbelievable. We need to wake up and see what we can do and put in capital to south Donegal. I know we can;'t get it all done in one day but I would have liked to have seen a little bit more coming here," he said.

Cllr Noel Jordan (SF) said he was also angry at the lack of progress in the Ballyshannon-Bundoran fire station saga.

"There were a number of public meetings last year and one here in June where everybody right across the floor, cross-party and none, rejected the recommendations from the chief fire officer. We're back here today and what really annoys me is what this programme says about the Glencolmcille fire station. They deserve a good fire service. It says if we don't accept a recommendation for the south of the county, these people will suffer too - that is not acceptable. As long as I'm an elected representative on this council I will not accept the chief fire officer's recommendation until there is a commitment from the department to build a new station in Ballyshannon and a new station in Bundoran which these people deserve," he said.

Chief executive, Seamus Neely, described the Three Year Capital Programme as "an enabling document", one that gave all the players that had a decision-making role in the council to be aware of what the plans were and that they were consistent with the objectives of the council.

"It's an enabling document, not a disabling document and if there are ten things that are not in it today and there's a way found to put them into it next year then that can be done. It's not the same as the Revenue Budget where if it's not in it can't be added," he said.

He pointed out they had more money to spend this coming year and the new programme was up there with any they had in the past.

He said he was conscious of the Ballyshannon-Bundoran fire station situation and acknowledged there was a parting of views between the professional people in the department that manages the funding and their views were on what was affordable and necessary and the clearly articulated wishes of the members.

"I am concerned  the longer this goes on the more difficult it is to reconcile the two positions. There is evidence to say the body of evidence that is developing nationally and internationally tends to support the position adopted by those managing the funding at the department level and I'm just concerned about that. Suffice to say we have not been able to attract a commitment from the department to run two separate stations. What I'm saying is it's looking increasingly more difficult to achieve the absolute outcome that the members want. I'm not saying that because I support one view or the other. If the members want to pursue two stations we will assist members in doing so but I'm also conscious that there comes a point in time and I want to be clear with you, that supporting a position taken may ultimately compromise what happens at the end of the day."

He added that as soon as a solution was established, it could be plugged into the capital programme.

"It's just not possible to make definite proposals today when there is a fundamental disagreement between what the council thinks it wants and what the department is prepared to fund."

He added as the matter had not progressed since the last meeting it was incumbent to sit down and rationally look at what the options were and move it forward.

Mr Neely said in relation to flooding issues no provision of an extensive nature could be made in the Capital Budget because it was not something that would be funded by the council.

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