Minutes of Special Meeting of Sligo County Council to Discuss Issues Affecting Rural Areas held on Friday, 1st March, 2019 at 10.00 a.m. in The Council Chamber, County Hall, Riverside, Sligo
- Councillor Baker,
- Councillor Bree,
- Councillor Casserly,
- Councillor Clarke,
- Councillor Gormley,
- Councillor Keaney,
- Councillor Kilgannon,
- Councillor Lundy,
- Councillor MacManus,
- Councillor Maguire,
- Councillor Mulvey,
- Councillor O’Grady,
- Councillor Taylor.
- Cathaoirleach, Councillor M. Baker presided.
OFFICIALS IN ATTENDANCE:
- Mr. Ciarán Hayes, Chief Executive
- Mr. John Reilly, Head of Enterprise
- Ms. Dorothy Clarke, Director of Services
- Mr. Kevin Colreavy, Meetings Administrator
- Ms. Jo-Anne McGonigle, Assistant Staff Officer.
Apologies were received from Councillor T. Healy, Councillor K. Henry, Councillor T. MacSharry, Councillor G. O’Boyle and Councillor J. Queenan.
ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES IN ATTENDANCE:
- Ms. Marian Harkin, M. E. P.,
- Mr. Matt Carthy, M.E.P.
- Mr. Eamon Scanlon, T.D.
WELCOME BY CATHAOIRLEACH:
The Cathaoirleach welcomed his fellow Councillors, T.D, and M.E.P.s for their attendance. He noted that while there have been very positive developments in Sligo in recent times; rural areas in particular faced a number of challenges. He added that it was very rarely that the Council convened a special meeting, but this was a very important forum and working together we could address these issues.
The agreed format was that each Speaker would make their presentation and this would be followed by a questions and answer session.
It was noted that Mr. Gerry Loftus (Chair of Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association) was unavoidably absent, having intended to be present on the day.
PRESENTATION BY CAMILLA KELLY, MANAGER OF “LOCAL LINK”:
Ms. Kelly made a presentation on the work undertaken by Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon Rural Transport Company (Trading as “Local Link Sligo Leitrim Roscommon”).
Ms. Kelly outlined the range of initiatives planned or supported by Local Link:
- Transport co-ordination Unit established by the National Transport Authority (N.T.A.) in January 2015.
- The N.T.A. carries overall responsibility for Public Transport Provision in Ireland.
- Local Link T.C.U. Contracts subject to N.T.A. Tender for period 2019-2022
- Details of Voluntary Board and Sligo Directors.
- Work carried out by Local Link Sligo Leitrim and Roscommon.
- Transport Services in Sligo and routes involved.
- Publicity Promotion and Branding and contact details.
PRESENTATION BY J. P. COWLEY, CHAIR OF SLIGO I. F. A.:
Mr. Cowley outlined the seriousness of issues affecting the farming community and stated that the numbers involved in suckler farming were declining because of increased production costs.
Sligo was a ‘first’ in many ways in suckling where their sucklers originated from traditional breeds such as Angus and Shorthorn which produced a special type of animal, especially on the female side – a blue grey heifer.
The blue grey heifer had put Sligo on the map and started the first exports from Sligo approximately 60 years ago by local families. They were bought at local fairs and, later, marts and were exported to Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.
Another first occurred in Sligo with the opening of Dunally A.I. Station. Continental breeds were brought from France and were used on the blue grey heifers and produced the “Rolls Royce” of cattle. Sligo became the envy of not only the rest of the country but the rest of Europe. The best cattle in the world were derived in the north west and exporting to Spain, Belgium, Holland, Italy and Turkey became a big business. This was thanks to the special genes that those cows inherited. A price could not be put on that gene pool.
Mr. Cowley continued that “with the mass exodus from suckling, all this success is going to be lost and our gene pool of valuable genetics will be lost forever”. He stated that it was due to the cost of production which was outside farmers’ control. The suckler herd was being devastated and that was where the problem lay, he advised the meeting.
98% of cattle being sold were from the suckler herd. As a result, there was the prospect of Ballymote Livestock Mart and Mayo Sligo Livestock Mart closing. They had approximately €45 million per year in livestock sales between the two marts. That money was being spent locally with one sale of 500 cattle in any mart being worth approximately €400,000 per week. If that money was taken from the local economy, the economy would die.
The suckler cow was of utmost importance to the region as they accounted for 80% of cows in the west of Ireland and 90% in some counties. Sligo had around 28,000 suckler cows and the national herd was 850,000 all producing top quality beef. The value of beef exports in 2018 was €2.8 billion. Consumption of Irish beef accounted for €230 million and the overall value of the beef sector was €2.9 billion.
In reply to the question of what could be done to save the suckler herd, the family farm and local businesses, Mr. Cowley said he personally thought that a lot could be achieved by working together. The meeting was a first big step – by raising awareness of the consequences of what would happen if the suckler herd was gone from Sligo, targeted support was required. It was acknowledged that Europe would not pay for over -production. If the gene pool was eroded, it could not be restored, Mr. Cowley concluded.
PRESENTATION BY ORLAGH CAWLEY OF OMD DESIGN LTD.:
Ms. Cawley gave a presentation entitled “Rural Planning”.
Among the issues outlined in the presentation:
- Spatial Planning and National Roads Guidelines for Planning Authorities 2012
- Examples of sites where landowner was unable to get planning permission for a new house (with an extension to their Parents’ home being the only option available to them)
- Difficulties with “scenic routes” where there were no zoning plans for rural areas only restriction plans
- Extract from Easkey Mini Plan to identify difficulties with Protected Structure status
- Extract from Enniscrone Local Area Plan – change of protection status resulted in a planning application for construction of three new houses, rejuvenation in the village centre
- Sample photographs of protected structures in the west of Ireland
- Easkey Mini Plan – lack of available serviced zoned lands
- Quote from “Ireland 2040” – agriculture has traditionally been the most important contributor to rural economies and it remains important as a significant source of income and both direct and indirect employment.
- What Rural Planning needs and
- 58% of Ireland’s population live in rural Ireland.
PRESENTATION BY ADAM WALSH OF FORÓIGE NATIONAL COUNCIL:
Mr. Walsh gave an overview of the groups involved in youth work –
- Comhairle na nÓg
- Young people in Ireland.
The Meeting was advised that
- Foróige is a youth group founded as ‘Macra na Tuaithe’ in 1952.
- There are 600 clubs in the country (together with one in Philadelphia and one in New York).
- 56,000 young people are involved and over 5,000 volunteers.
- There is a Foróige Club in every county (13 in Sligo)
The Members were shown a sample of one of three murals in Tubbercurry with work carried out by Foróige. Funding had been received for another mural in June.
Further details were given of a conservation project in South Africa where representatives had travelled to Cape Town to work with young people and restore infrastructure in the community.
Foróige’s motto was “empowering youth, enriching communities” and Mr. Walsh outlined what this meant on the ground.
The structure of the organisation was outlined as follows:
Work of the Reference Panel in 2018 had included discussions on
- Retaining older members in Foróige
- Discussing Budget spending and
- Revamping their website and app.
Sub-Committees in the Organisation included
- Audit and risk
- Human Resources
Further slides included details of the
- National Council of Foróige Political Spectrum
- Governance of Foróige
- Sligo Comhairle na nÓg
- Young voices/local issues
- Comhairle National Executive
- Other Committees and Organisations
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION - LOCAL LINK SLIGO, LEITRIM AND ROSCOMMON - CAMILLA KELLY
Mr. Carthy, M.E.P. thanked the Cathaoirleach and Members for their invitation to attend the meeting. The issues raised were pertinent and reflected the challenges faced across the constituency, particularly in the midlands and west. There was a need for collaboration to address the issues outlined by the speakers to ensure that rural Ireland was not just a nice place to visit but to live in. All areas would need a collaborative approach.
The Cathaoirleach thanked Mr. Carthy for his comments and extended his appreciation for his attendance.
Queries on Local Link (Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon):
Among the matters raised by the Elected Representatives and responded to by Ms. Kelly were
- Benefits of the service, particularly in areas where residents could feel isolated and tackling rural isolations as a result.
- Service to I.T. Sligo from Ballymote area – this was in the context of providing sustainable, long term public transport services in Sligo. This service met the need of a broad cohort and was scheduled at times that met the needs of Students, Schools, Hospital appointments/visits etc.
- Colleges, jobs and social outings were opened up to people from many rural areas by the service.
- Various routes and their benefits for Tourists and locals alike, e.g. Rossnowlagh along the coast to Sligo and back.
- Local Link worked with other Operators, including Bus Éireann who were all part of the “Transport for Ireland family".
- Review of Tender process to expand services further was awaited.
- Currently working with the Wild Atlantic Way and Sligo Tourism. Councillor Taylor requested that South and West Sligo Tourism would also be involved in route selection and operation and this was agreed.
- The continuing working relationship with Banada Development Agency and Local Link and what they had achieved in social inclusion.
- Minister was very positively disposed to put services in place in rural areas.
- Local Link had been used as a model for other areas when the Minister was reviewing the Scheme.
- The Scheme had responded to communities’ needs. “Local Link” was very happy to implement any strategy that was in place.
- The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport had reviewed the evening transport programme pilot. The outcome of the Tender process was due out shortly.
- It was noted that 400 Bus Drivers were involved in operating the service. They were also commended for their assistance and for being so accommodating to their passengers.
- Statistics for service users were provided -
2015 - 95% of Passengers were over 66 and 50% well over age of 75.
2018 – 58% of Passengers were over the age of 66.
- In the past, the service had been seen as an older person’s bus. Efforts were continuing to correct this and encourage users of all ages.
- Younger people were now using the services and the Minister was addressing the challenge of evening transport services. It was hoped that it would be addressed in 2019.
- Several Elected representatives confirmed the need for an evening and night time service in the county.
- The need was for a sustainable daily schedule in the region, including late night services. It was noted that this would take both time and resources but the Minister and the National Transport Authority were both positively disposed to putting the service in place.
- The Cathaoirleach thanked Ms. Kelly for the presentation and acknowledged the wonderful work carried out by the Scheme in the region.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION - SLIGO I.F.A. - J. P. COWLEY
Deputy Scanlon thanked Mr. Cowley for his presentation and noted that his words had been from the heart.
Councillor Clarke thanked Mr. Cowley for his excellent talk delivered with passion and commitment. His own family had been exporting cattle through five generations and outlined his own experiences in this area.
Mr. Cowley concurred and explained that one breed of cow had been on his own farm for 23 generations, dating from his Grandfather’s time.
Members thanked Mr. Cowley for sharing his extensive knowledge and expertise in this area and reiterated their support for initiatives to resolve this matter.
Mr. Cowley also spoke of the facility at Dunally and outlined its value to Sligo. There was a bright future for the Laboratory. He had been astounded on a recent visit to I. T. Sligo to see the facilities on site there. From his own farming background, if Sligo I. T. and Dunally Laboratory were to develop an Agriculture Science Course together, this would result in better education and for farming and disease control.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION – RURAL PLANNING - ORLAGH CAWLEY (OMD DESIGN LTD.)
Members thanked Ms. Cawley for the information furnished to the Meeting.
Reference was made to the many areas affected by rural difficulties.
At the outset of this discussion, the threatened closure of Ballisodare Secondary School was referenced. The school had served catchment areas as far away as from Templeboy, Skreen and Dromard to Coolaney and Collooney. It was noted that, at the time of the meeting, 25 new Student enrolments were required, there had initially been 12 applications which had risen to 19 and Members hoped the target of 25 new Students would be achieved.
Scenic routes in the county were highlighted and the problems this caused for families living in these areas.
The recent closure of Gurteen Post Office was discussed as was the work of those who had tried to save the Post Office in Easkey.
Ms. Cawley agreed that these issues were all leading to the deterioration of the rural villages and outlined difficulties faced by families trying to build in their own areas.
Services would have to be developed in rural areas to allow the development of land being zoned. If the land was then not developed, the zoning could be revised when the Development Plan was next reviewed.
It was also noted that in some areas there were estates with no public lighting. These developments were not taken in charge, having been developed under the Rural Renewal Schemes as holiday homes. There had not been any further investment in these estates so they were without lighting or proper services.
Ms. Cawley said each case had to be taken on its own merit and deal with the individual. The “no development” philosophy would have to be reviewed. Ms. Cawley suggested that a meeting could be arranged with the Members in Mayo and Leitrim County Council, in conjunction with the Sligo Members.
Discussions followed regarding the “Local only” rule which also affected a vast area. This varies from county to county as in Ballina there was a much smaller “green belt” than in Enniscrone.
In reply to the suggestion of meeting with other Elected Members, Councillor Kilgannon suggested the inclusion of Roscommon in the group. This would mean the counties of Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon working together.
Ms. Cawley noted that the co-operation she received from the Planners in Sligo County Council was above and beyond that of many other counties. This was welcomed by the Cathaoirleach and Executive.
The Cathaoirleach thanked Ms. Cawley for her detailed presentation and concurred that many of the issues raised would require further consideration. A lot of common sense was needed as Councillor Gormley had referred to earlier in the discussion. The incoming Council following the Local Elections in May 2019 would have to come together and try to resolve the difficulties highlighted.
QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION – ADAM WALSH OF FORÓIGE:
Members noted the extremely high standard of all presentations. The presentation delivered by Adam was impressive in its content and delivery, and it was noted that Adam’s father, Paul, was also in the public gallery and his support was welcomed.
Adam was further congratulated on all his attributes and achievements. Some Members had been involved in Foróige in the past themselves and were aware of the excellent works undertaken by the Organisation.
Councillor Taylor said it was very welcome to get a youth perspective on issues affecting rural areas and Members would take on board the points raised. It was reiterated that Councillors would be open to raising issues if they were made aware of them by those involved in youth work. As Adam had outlined earlier, a ‘blanket approach’ did not work, there are unique circumstances in Sligo and the north west.
Deputy Scanlon acknowledged the work being undertaken by organisations such as Foróige and congratulated Adam on his input.
This was supported Members in the Chamber and the importance of their role was noted. Adam was encouraged to use any forum he could to convey his message and make people aware of the changes required.
In reply to enquiries as to what Sligo County Council could do to assist them in the short term, Adam asked that Members would consult with Comhairle na nÓg locally. They had been elected for this purpose and would be aware of relevant issues. Meetings of the group took place twice per month in “The Crib” on Rockwood Parade and were the appropriate organisation to consult with.
Adam added that he appreciated the attendance of the highly influential people at the meeting. At previous meetings in other regions, most attendees had left before it was the turn of the Youth Representatives to make their presentation.
Members added their thanks and congratulations for all the information conveyed to them by the speakers and the high standard of their interesting and relevant presentations.
CONCLUSION OF DISCUSSIONS:
The Chief Executive stated that the meeting had been a very interesting event. It had highlighted the core issues of peripherality were access, job creation and growth. Access to good infrastructure, to public transport, services etc., to markets, to farmland and job creation.
There had been very positive announcements for Sligo recently, but this was only a start. The onus was on Sligo County Council to keep pressure on for further announcements for growth to deal with rural depopulation. If Sligo did not have the access outlined, the youth were being educated for emigration. The links between Education, the I.D.A. attraction of future jobs and Foreign Direct Investment and issues of infrastructure were all important.
The Chief Executive said the future was in very good hands with representatives like Adam Walsh working on behalf of the youth and said he had been very impressed by his presentation.
There was no ‘silver bullet’ and this had been highlighted in the presentations. Ms. Cawley had mentioned about sensitive planning. There was an urban generated demand in rural areas dovetailed with sons and daughters wishing to live in their own area. Points raised by Mr. Cowley were also noted and the importance of issues affecting farmers in the Sligo area. The issue of aligning with Sligo I. T. to produce skill sets was also important, as had been identified by Mr. Cowley.
The Cathaoirleach thanked all the speakers and appreciated that it could be daunting to make a presentation setting out their issues. All the presentations had been excellent, interesting and informative and Councillor Clarke was thanked for proposing the hosting of a Special Meeting.
The Cathaoirleach thanked all the Members in attendance and noted that their support was appreciated.
END OF MEETING:
The business of the meeting concluded at 1.30 p.m.
Meeting Date 01/03/2019