Twelve days to sort out €80 million debt overhang.

Sligo News File Online.

A major rundown of local public services seems likely if environment minister, Alan Kelly holds to his reported threat to abolish Sligo County Council.

Cllr. Joe Queenan
Cllr. Joe Queenan,
Sligo County Council

Central to the issue is an €80 million legacy debt that it seems Kelly wants to have resolved within the next twelve days – that is by 24 of November.

He has apparently called in local Fine Gael and Labour TDs and Senators to lay it on the line that the prevailing debt situation is no longer acceptable to him, and he wants urgent and concrete action on the issue.

Quite how he expects councillors to achieve an €80 million debt reduction in the space of less than a couple of weeks would be beyond the understanding of most people, but there it is. Of course, it is entirely possible that Knock could bring about a miracle
for the beleaguered council, seeing the authority has been showing goodwill towards a plan which would have it linking up with the airport to help in keeping flights rolling into the shrine.

As of the moment it is not clear whether there is more debt than the indicated figure, or if the existing sum includes the legal costs which the council has been ordered to meet by the Supreme Court arising out of the proceedings taken against the body by the owners of
the Lissadell Estate following on a decision or resolution over claimed rights of way through the estate.

The chairman of the Sligo Municipal District council, Cllr. Tom MacSharry has hit out at the demand being placed on the council, describing it, according to one source, as “a new low in politics.”

However, what we have difficulty with are statements in which, some time back, it was contended media accounts of the scale of the council’s indebtedness were wrong, and that the figure was actually much lower than reported. What are the facts on this?

Surprisingly, there hasn’t so far been any comment from the Fianna Fail chairman of the council, Enniscrone-based farmer, auctioneer and grocer, Cllr. Joe Queenan. Recently, he and party colleagues joined Fine Gael in resisting a proposed 15% cut in the Coalition
introduced property tax on the homes of families across the county.

A problem now for Fianna Fail and Fine Gael members is whether they will be obliged to vote through an increase in the commercial rate in a bid to solve the sweeping debt that it appears Minister Kelly is insisting must be dealt with in the days ahead. Or will
they perhaps choose instead to ratchet up the tax on the family home, or both?

Decisions will also have to be made on the future of key services, which it’s assumed would take in roads, motor tax services and local district office facilities and operations in the various county locations.

Then, again, there is always the prospect councillors may decide to act with magnanimity and forego for a few years their substantial representational allowances and expenses in order to avoid or minimise the need for rate or tax hikes or cut backs in the local service provision.

Whatever the decision or outcome, it can be expected the scene in Sligo council circles and outside it will be, to say the least. lively in coming days.