Local services ‘have suffered massively.’
Sligo News File Online.
Fianna Fail has highlighted debts at local authorities just a week after the party voted with the government to appeal against an EU ruling requiring it to recover billions in back tax from Apple.
European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said the decision demanding the government redeem €13 billion from Apple followed an in-depth investigation which found that Ireland gave a selective advantage to the corporation over two decades, an arrangement illegal under EU state aid rules. With penalties, the figure would amount to about €19 billion. She said the decision is about illegal state aid; it in no way calls into question Ireland’s existing tax regime or its corporate tax rate.
Against this background, it now looks that the government hasn’t the financial resources to bail out local authorities that, said Fianna Fail deputy Marc MacSharry, are unable to provide basic services. He doesn’t say, in light of what appears to be a major crisis for local councils, why then his party joined in appealing against accepting from Apple the billions in state aid taxes that would more than dig councils out of the debt some are now apparently up to the neck in.
McSharry says the financial condition of the county council in his own county of Sligo is “particularly acute.” This, he asserts, has been exacerbated by a “prohibitive debt reduction plan forced on the council by the Department.” He said, “this plan ordered a 42% reduction in staff, which to date has reduced payroll costs by €8.5 million…” He also points to local services which, he declares,”have suffered massively.”
What MacSharry hasn’t gone on to explain is how in the first place Sligo County Council has ended up with the debt load is now labouring under. Did the Sligo authority not spend millions after a Fianna Fail-led government prevailed on them to roll out a pilot scheme to meter the water supplies of farmers in the county? Did the council also not run up a multi-million euro bill in contracting Veolia, a French company to carry out functions which many believed were well within the capacity of council staff to handle? Legal proceedings in the High Court and, later, the Supreme Court, concerning the dispute over the Lissadell Estate has, too, added to the colossal indebtedness, as has the apparent agreement to join in a costly plan to pay off the debts of the Knock North West Airport?
Former Minister in the last Fine Gael/Labour Government, Alan Kelly could be hardly accused of targeting Sligo unfairly when he took the initiative to call the county council to account for the state of its finances.
This is what Independent TD Clare Daly outlined in a Parliamentary Question she presented for his attention in 2015. She asked “if his attention has been drawn to a new financial plan the council has submitted to his Department on 29 April 2015 showing the council had borrowings of in excess of €23 million on which it was only capable of paying the interest; if his attention has been drawn to the fact the council has had a deficit in its revenue account in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the council’s cumulative deficit currently stands at more than €26 million with long-term debt in excess of €120 million; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Knock Airport, Co. Mayo, has current debts of approximately €9 million; if his attention has been drawn to the fact the Chief Executive of Sligo County Council has recommended that the council provide financial assistance of approximately €1.6 million to Knock airport.”
Surely it is past time the people were told how exactly the council has grown such a massive level of indebtedness – understood to also include the cost of land purchases and rentals – particularly now with existing council-run services, and, possibly, still more jobs so seriously at risk.
For the last few years, families in Sligo have been hit with a tax on their homes far greater than that levied in some other parts of the country in order seemingly to reduce the council’s shocking debt pile. As the record shows, proposals to cut the charge have repeatedly been voted down by Fine Gael and Fianna Fail members of the authority.
MacSharry says Sligo has a proud literary and cultural tradition but because of “drastic budget cuts” the Sligo County Library is set to “close indefinitely this Saturday,” and that he has been informed one of the three libraries in the county will be closed permanently. “This is a massive loss to the community,” he states.
However, if, as ministers complain, exchequer resources are impossibly tight, and with the Government and Fianna Fail refusing to accept the billions in back taxes which the EU has determined Apple owes the state, what does he expect to be accomplished by Fianna Fáil “bringing forward a Private Members Motion in the Dáil calling on the Government to take strategic action to address the local authority debt issue?” Indeed, should there be concern that the move could well result in the government, which is supported by Fianna Fail, revising the family home tax upwards or imposing a whole new raft of levies or charges on the people to cover the debts that McSharry says are disadvantaging Sligo and other local authorities?
A trade union is reportedly drawing up plans for a public protest against the imminent closure of libraries in Sligo on Saturday.