Minister tells TD ‘continued deterioration’ of Sligo County Council financial position ‘a serious concern’

Department considering newly submitted financial plan in consultation with the Council.

 Sligo News File Online

Sligo County Council’s massive debt pile has again been raised with Environment Minister Alan Kelly.

Clare Daly, TD.
Clare Daly, TD.

Clare Daly, TD highlighted the issue after members of the council heard CEO, Ciaran Hayes speak of investment plans which could see the authority now also taking responsibility for debts of the regional airport at Knock.

According to reports, the airport is currently in the red to the tune of €9 million, a sum it would seem the government wants a few neighbouring local authorities to take over. It’s reckoned Sligo’s share in the plan would cost it upwards of €2 million when bank loan fees and interest charges are taken into account. The plan is being  promoted as an investment in the airport. Sligo’s stake would only amount to a few percent.

It’s not clear whether, to date members of the Council have been given copies or sight of the “due diligence” statement or report it is understood a firm of consultants was commissioned to carry out some months ago. In the absence of this, other documentation and draft contract, it is hard to see how councillors would be sufficiently informed to progress the deal.

Another issue is who and how many will be representing the council on the board of the airport.

However, a core matter councillors will have to grapple with is whether Sligo, a local authority already up to the tonsils in millions of euro of debt, is realistically in a position to take on what many feel should be government responsibility for the airport’s prevailing €9 million debt. The airport is in the Mayo constituency of the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny whose Coalition has reportedly bailed out Shannon – a rival of Knock – with millions of euro in debt write offs and a plethora of other valuable concessions. In contrast to its support for Shannon, the same Coalition is now looking to local authorities – the people of the North West and West- to pay off the Knock debt.

Environment Minister, Alan Kelly, TD
Environment Minister,
Alan Kelly, TD

Environment Minister Alan Kelly has reacted strongly to Sligo’s ongoing financial problems.

Clare Daly, TD asked in a Parliamentary Question submitted earlier this week if his attention had been drawn to a new financial plan the council had 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 had 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 had 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 had been drawn to the fact that Knock Airport, Co. Mayo, has current debts of approximately €9 million; if his attention had 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.

The Minister said that “the continued deterioration” of Sligo County Council’s financial position is of “serious concern” to him. He said that while it was a matter for individual local authorities to manage their own day-to-day finances in a prudent and sustainable manner, his Department was “in regular consultation” with Sligo County  Council in relation to its financial position, “including in relation to the agreement of a long term financial plan to address these issues.”

His Department, he said, received a financial plan from Sligo on 29 April “and is considering its contents in consultation with the Council.”