Sunday, April 08, 2007


More staff needed in Duleek Civic Office

The monthly County Council meeting took place on Monday. Whether it was because it fell between Paddy’s Day and Easter, I don’t know, but the chamber was a lot emptier than usual. I believe that some members were sick and some others were away on trips (for example, two Slane Area Councillors were in Bulgaria).

At one point it looked like we might have to stop the meeting, because there was less than a quorum in the chamber (a quorum is a third of members). However, luckily the tenth Councillor came back from a toilet break just in the nick of time.

By the time it got to the Motion submitted by the five Slane Councillors I was the only councillor from the area left in the Chamber, so it fell to me to propose the Motion. Our Motion called for the Minister to increase staffing levels at the Duleek Civic Offices and in the Council in general. At the moment there is a recruitment freeze in operation.

I argued that the population of the East Meath area has risen by 25% since 2002 and that Duleek itself has grown by 50% in that period. I also made the point that since the County Manager (in his wisdom) has withdrawn a motor tax service from the Civic Offices in Ashbourne the workload on Duleek staff has increased further. Almost any day you choose you will see queues stretching out the door of the Duleek Offices.

The other councillors supported the Motion and a letter is to be sent to Minister Roche arguing for more resources.

The situation in relation to Ashbourne is a bit farcical. It’s one of our designated growth towns, we are all looking for a sustainable development, where local services are provided locally, and yet the Manager relocated the motor tax service miles down the road!

I was also in Ratoath during the week to talk to people about the issues facing the growing village. Many residents asked about whether the current rate of population growth would continue. I was able to explain the thinking behind the recently adopted County Development Plan, which will limit the amount of housing allowed in Ratoath over the next six years. In effect, residents can expect to see a lower rate of population growth - it’s a period of consolidation rather than mass expansion.

A major issue at the doorstop was the commute to and from Dublin. One lady told me about her two children travelling up to DCU each day and paying a hundred euro a week in bus fares. I told her about our policy of bus fares from Ratoath. €1 fare each way, which we intend to do by including Ratoath in the commuterland fare structure.

People also complained about the condition of bus stops. I had been in Dublin to the bus stop at Beresford Place on Wednesday and could empathise. The bus stop itself is a disgrace. It's covered in graffiti and a printed timetable wouldn't go amiss.

Beresford Place Bus Stop
Beresford Place bus stop

How can we expect to attract more people out of cars into buses if we don’t think about the end-to-end experience? I wonder if the Chief Executive of Bus Eireann would be happy to let their son or daughter wait at that bus stop on a rainy evening? Especially if the next bus is at least 20 minutes away! I wrote to the Chief Executive and told him as much.

Some good news this week -the long awaited completion of a footpath between Laytown and the school is only days away. It will mean that families can walk with their children down to the school from Inse Bay, Seaview and other local estates in safety. It’s something all of the Councillors have been pushing for over the last two years.

Laytown footpath
The Laytown footpath should be finished before the end of the Easter Holidays

The election is around the corner and at this stage people are asking me what my position is on this issue or on that subject. Here’s a short video on a commitment I’m making for our hospitals.

My Commitment on Hospitals

I dont buy the motor tax argument. It can be renewed on-line in a couple of minutes at there is no need for people to be queuing at all. Most people have the internet or at least a relative has the internet or you can access it in a library. You and your colleagues could always direct the manager to reinstate the service by a section 140 local government act 2001 order if you felt strongly enough, you are not powerless you know, you have been elected and that brings powers, but I dont think its warranted, you should focus instead on increasing awareness of the online payment service at as it is more efficient and frees up staff for other duties as the staff renewal of motortax is a waste of peoples and councils time and money. On another topic, Is there any plans to review speed limits in this county?
People can renew online, but not everyone is willing or able to pay by credit card. No doubt some people do pay online, but you just have to check the queues in Duleek to see how overstretched staff are there, with motor tax and other queries. I'll talk to a few of the other Councillors about the possibility of going down the Section 140 route. On the issue of speed limits there is a review underway. If you have a specific location in mind then let me know.
I accept that many older people are weary of technology especially technology involving their hard earned cash but I think electronic services are the way of the world these days and should be embraced as they save all involved time and money (one extra clerical officer is 22k that could be spent on physical village improvements for instance). Though at the same time I fully accept your point that Ashbourne is a major centre and should have services. It would seem to make more sense for the tax office in Dunshaughlin to be relocated to Ashbourne (if a fourth office cant be justified in the county) as Ashbourne and Ratoath are major population centres. A Section 140 is an option but its use should always be carefully considered as to whether its use is justifiable in the particular instance as it could be seen as a vote of no confidence in the manager and his executive and seriously damage relationships. Just on the speed limits I have nowhere in particular in mind, but am just wondering would you have any rough idea when draft bye-laws are due to go to public consultation? (April? May? etc)
The other issue in relation to motor tax is that apart from significant numbers of people who don’t have internet access or capability to do this online, 10% of households are unbanked, i.e. do not have a bank account and a large proportion who have bank account only have a deposit account and do not have a current account, so many do not have a laser or credit card. So while those with access to the internet should be encouraged to use, council has responsibility to provide for those who don’t have internet or banking facilities as motor tax is a legal obligation when you own a car.
I find it very hard to accept the unbanked argument. There are 3 motor tax offices and a number of staff yet the 2007 budget makes provision for 1.28 million expenditure on motor tax services thats more than 1% of the entire budget, this is a terrible waste when the service can be administered from a website that eliminates these costs. 1.28 million could build a number of affordable homes, resurface a lot of road and have flowers and trees planted in every village in Meath. It could be invested in planning or public amenities. Using it to pay staff to provide a service that they wouldnt have to provide if people used the website is uneconomic and wasteful. The previous comment mentioned 10% are unbanked or only have a saving acccount,this effectively means 90% of us have to provide a very costly service to 10% of the population because they wont open a current account and get a laser card. If they have the wherewithall to afford a car, insurance, petrol and all that goes with it then they certainly have the wherewithall to open a current account and if they can afford motor tax and all of the above then they can definitly afford a laser card. The internet is widely available and if you dont have it, relatives or friends do, failing that it is in libraries for free. I dont advocate closing motortax offices, but staff and expenditure should be reduced to cater only for those who wont pay online, (wont not cant, because its a matter of will) The queues would then be a disincentive for those that are costing the council so much money that could be spent in so many more tangible areas that would really benefits areas and lives. If even a quarter of this money was spent on pride of place or tidy towns iniatives instead of staff our villages would be so much nicer places in which to live, dont get me started on what it could do for the pot-holes situation. I advocate less staff not more, spend the money on physical improvements throughout the county that we can all benefit from. Over 40 million is already going towards staff (and they are due payrises in june and twice in 2008)Staff undoubtly have there purpose but I would much prefer to see tangible improvements on the ground to services and amenities that benefit 100% of us including that 10% that are unbanked. Expenditure on staff does not materially improve my area or standard of living infact it reduces the budget for this purpose.
There is one thing that really bugs me about local government. From what i remember of the story that I read in the chronicle yesterday, I think some cllrs were unhappy with a road in navan and they wanted a pedestrian crossing installed. The official line was that a tender for a crossing had either just been advertised or awarded and that the successful company would prepare a design for the council. This is what I cant understand and I would like you Dominic to answer been as you have an engineering background. Why do the council tender what seem to be incredibly simple jobs such as this. You have people in their with Civil/Structural Engineering degrees who you would think could do this in their sleep, what do the council road (not water services) engineers actual do everyday to be paid 40 - 80 thousand euro per annum if they dont do this work. Seriously Dominic what do they actually do, I really want to know, I would have thought this was their job.
Couple of points.. The draft by-laws on speed limits should be on public display in a short number of months, according to the engineers.

Secondly, in relation to that report ( on the Navan Road junction - it does look a bit strange. Either the reporter has not provided the full details of what may be a bigger contract, or the council is indeed seeking a tender for just the junction and lights. Because it's Navan Town Council and not Meath County Council I don't have a role in this, so I don't know the specific details of the case. What I can say is that as someone who has worked in the transportation department of a large engineering consultancy (Ove Arup), we would knock up a design for a junction (including phasing of lights etc) in a short number of days. I know that there is in-house capability in the COUNTY Council to do this sort of work, but I don't know the exact position in relation to Navan TC. Perhaps the Council engineers are only responsible for the procurement and project management side, rather than the detailed design, which they contract out. I'll do a bit of digging on this.
Im from Ratoath and have been living there for the last 3 years.
Slowdown on building, not really!!

Ratoath has grown 91% since the previous census.

There is an application for 286 new homes opposite Jamestown estate.

Buses run on an ad-hoc basis as far as I can see so now I use the car.

Ratoath is in the "country-side", WHERE is there to walk? Oh yes on the pavement beside the HGV's roaring by on a regular basis.

Where is there a playground for kids?

Much to do. Maybe Labour can deliver? Fianna Fail certainly did not.
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