A letter to Clonmel’s new mayor

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Dear Mr. Mayor,

Congratulations on your recent election as Mayor of Clonmel. May your term in office be a time of returning prosperity to the town.

It was good to see that the so-called pact which excluded your party (WUAG) from the mayoralty has been broken. The ordinary electorate doesn’t really like the cult of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yourS” of pact-dom!

Your aspirations, as reported in this newspaper, for your year in office, are welcome; particularly your proposal to open the Council meetings to attendance by the public. As you are aware, there is an existing obligation on local authorities to do so, but this access has been made so cumbersome that it has become a deterrent. Surely, any law-abiding member of the public is entitled to such access without the necessity of written application and of obtaining the sponsorship of an elected member? It is, of course, appreciated that there has to be some closed sessions at Council meetings, but in most European democracies, depending on available space, on a basis of first-come first-served.

Your commitment to consult with associations on such issues as tourism, is also interesting. Unfortunately, local authorities now have only very limited powers in local government, and those powers are in themselves so circumscribed as to be almost ineffective. So, it would seem that the active encouragement of local interests, be they commercial, social, cultural, historical, or sporting, and their contribution to decision-making, is the most practical approach to the enhancement of the quality of life in a town. Indeed, the vibrancy of the voluntary is the barometer of the wellbeing of a community.

As a result of a survey and study, ‘The Irish Times’ recently nominated Westport as the “best Irish town in which to live.” According to the report, this conclusion was arrived at, not only in the presentation of the town itself and the conservation of its heritage and environment, but by the close co-operation between the citizens and the local authority, both working in harmony, listening to each other. It involved communication.

It sometimes seems, to this ordinary citizen of Clonmel, that the Borough Council is not good at communication. I cite a recent personal experience. I attended a public meeting arranged for the launching of the prestigious Entente Florale competition in which Clonmel has been chosen to represent Ireland. The general public, representative of various societies and organisations, sat at the western side of the Council Chamber, the local authority representatives sat at the eastern side, both separated from each other by a very large table. It was often difficult (at least for this columnist) to hear what was being said. This might seem a small quibble, but the format was a classical mistake in public relations.

And while it is obvious that the Borough Council is currently doing superb work in planting and landscaping, there seems to be an absence of engagement with the citizens. Surely, all of us should be encouraged to look after our own patch, our own street, and to co-operate with the hard-working Tidy Towns Committee in dealing with litter? And while our patch and our street may not be included in the area which will be assessed by Entente Florale judges, isn’t this an occasion for presentation (even putting out the window box or the pot of geraniums!) and for celebration by all the citizens of the town? Not just THEM and US, but all of us together!

I was surprised to note, Mr. Mayor, that your aspirations did not include any references to Rates, the burden of which is now a destructive discouragement to business and commerce, and thus to employment. The necessity to meet the level of this commitment, before any business earns a euro, is leaving in its trail streets of empty shops. And yet there is the apparent dichotomy, that, while the Council now has considerably reduced powers, and is no longer providing a number of services, such as garbage collection, and will shortly be divested of the responsibility of domestic water, the Rates assessment remains fundamentally the same.

In this context, the occasion of your annual Council Estimates debates should be very interesting to the public, whose access to meetings you hope to accommodate. Indeed, such meetings should be particularly interesting, in view of the fact that your party’s policy involves abstaining in the adoption vote.

There is also the fact that your party (WUAG) has pursued a campaign of recommending the boycotting of the payment of the Household Tax, a payment which has now become the law of the land. This would seem a bewildering stance for a leftish party, as the so-called Left has always strongly advocated taxation on property. Since such taxation has become a component of the financing of local government, how will this affect your vote in the Council of which you have now become the chairman, in addition to your mayoralty?

But then, of course, the honourable status of Mayor of Clonmel includes the representation of all citizens, exclusive of class or creed, or of a populist constituency. In that representation, all of us citizens, send you our very good wishes. May all your aspirations become a reality.

My (Barrett) family has been fortunate to have lived and worked in this lovely town since the early 1840s, and so, Mr. Mayor, in remaining yours sincerely, I am happy to sign myself -