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Mammography service will not be returned to Sligo.

Future of maternity services also shrouded in doubt

Sligo News File Online

The cessation of mammography service at Sligo General Hospital is to raised in both the Dail and Senate.

Tony McLoughlin, TD
Tony McLoughlin, TD

Confirmation that the service will not be moved back to Sligo emerged during a meeting between members of the North West Save our Cancer Services organisation and management of the West/North West hospitals group.

Hospitals Group Chief Operating Officer, Tony Canavan said he was
not in favour of reinstating the service, as such a course would lead to the fragmentation of the symptomatic breast service that would not be in the interest of service provision or women in the West of Ireland.

The decision has been attacked by local Fine Gael TD, Tony McLoughlin who said he had been assured on a number of occasions in the last few years that a follow up mammography facility was going to be put in place.

The move marks yet another blow to the Sligo hospital services from
which cancer treatment services were removed to Galway a number of years ago.

Mr. McLoughlin says he intends raise the loss of the mammography service with the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny and the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar.

Fears have also been expressed about the future of hospital’s maternity services. If terminated, it would leave the county with little more than a cottage style hospital.

Maintenance of mammography facilities and maternity services have been repeatedly raised in Senate debates by Fianna Fail spokesman on Health,  Senator MarcMacSharry.

 

ICSA WELCOMES CLARIFICATION OF ASPECTS OF FINANCE BILL

Inheritance tax relief secured under twenty hour farm work rule.

Sligo News File Online

ICSAICSA general secretary Eddie Punch has welcomed clarification that the 50% on-farm working time requirement to avail of inheritance tax relief as per the Finance Bill can be achieved by working 20 hours a week on the farm.

“Many farmers who are inheriting farms involved in low income sectors such as cattle and sheep have no option but to also work off-farm.  In these cases, it would have potentially been impossible to claim that the farm work was taking up another 40 hours on top of a 40-hour (or more) off-farm job. Low income cattle and sheep farmers are the backbone of rural Ireland and must be encouraged to remain in farming,” said Mr. Punch.

“Agricultural relief is vital because it provides a 90% reduction in the value of agricultural assets for the purposes of calculating liability for Capital Acquisitions Tax.

“Where a farm is being inherited, failure to avail of agricultural relief could mean a substantial tax bill running into tens of thousands even on relatively small and medium sized operations, and we welcome the fact that part-time farmers who work 20 hours a week on the farm can now avail of this relief.” 

‘No Irish’ as Russia to open market for EU beef.

‘FG/Lab Government heads’ in the sand’ while other EU states in Russian deal for cattle and beef offal – FF.

Sligo News File Online

Following steps taken by a several EU member states, Russia is set to authorise the import of both live cattle and beef offal originating in the EU.

Senator Marc MacSharry
Senator Marc MacSharry,
Fianna Fail

Describing the development as “hugely significant,” Fianna Fail has said in a statement that the move comes in the wake of “proactive steps taken by France, Denmark, Netherlands and Italy in establishing bilateral agreements with Russia.”

Sligo-based party Senator Marc MacSharry said that following an imminent veterinary inspection it is expected that Russia will be accepting beef offal from the four EU countries from late December or early January.   

Calling for government action, he said the Russian market “has been hugely important for Irish beef in the past and with limited outlets for manufacturing beef and offal products it is essential that the Fine Gael-Labour Government take their heads out of the sand and follow the proactive lead of some of our European partners.

“Despite improvements agreed at the recent forum many challenges still exist for the Irish Beef Sector.  With the lack of proactive market enabling actions such as those taken by our European partners our Government have also refused to take the EU to task on the lack of enforcement of Article 39b of the EU Treaty which guarantees a fair price to family families for their produce. Instead we still have large supermarket interests and processors freely erecting barriers to fair trade which seriously impact on the meagre return to farming families. This is against the law as laid down in the treaty and regulations must be introduced to prevent the bully boy tactics of large commercial interests.”

“The Government must be more pro-active and immediately engage with the Russian authorities on beef offal and live cattle so that Irish farm families can enjoy the same opportunities as their French, Dutch, Italian and Danish counterparts.  The Minister must also urgently seek regulation to protect farmers from the below cost prices that large commercial interests are demanding, as well as broadening the market for Irish meat products and the relaxing the prohibitive and unnecessary BSE-era regulations. 

“The farmers of Ireland deserve more than the administrative auto pilot of a government paralysed with indifference to our nation’s struggling agricultural SME sector”, he added.

SLIGO COULD SEE COUNCIL JOBS AND SERVICES GUTTED OVER COLOSSAL LEGACY DEBT.

Million euro per year budget surplus proposed as financial plan.

Sligo News File Online.

Pressure is growing on Sligo County Council to shrink its activities in order to pay down a massive multimillion euro legacy debt.

Though services have already been scaled back and staffing levels reduced by more than a third, it seems that Coalition Labour minister, Alan Kelly wants still more cuts, or cost containment, something which it appears CEO, Ciaran Hayes has not ruled out.

It is being denied that abolition of the council has been threatened if members fail to deliver up a financial plan to address the sweeping deficit by next Monday, 24 November 2014. According to a press release, the plan “is to contain details as to how the council will return a surplus on its revenue account that can be put towards running down the long-term debt over a 10 year period.” A budget surplus of €1 million per year over the next ten years is being demanded.

During a debate in the Senate, Senator Susan O’Keeffe (Labour) stated “I know the Minister is not intent on abolishing Sligo County Council…”

However, O’Keeffe and Fine Gael Senators Imelda Henry and Michael Comiskey later voted against an amendment proposed by Senator Marc MacSharry (Fianna Fail) seeking “a debate with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on reports that he intends to abolish Sligo County Council…”
 
Concerns are now growing that the people of the county may be forced to pick up the bill for the legacy debt under a regime of councillor agreed non-statutory and “discretionary” charges or fees as well as service cut backs, this despite the fact the debt in the main was run up, approved or came about as a result of decisions
of  elected members of previous councils.

An issue is particular is the legal bill of millions of euro arising out of a judgment of the Supreme Court on a council decision regarding rights of way through the historic Lissadell Estate.

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny has ruled out a government bailout for the council.

It is not apparent that people will be prepared to take responsibility for a debt in the making of which they had no hand, act or part, and about which there was no consultation with them.

Senate Leader Maurice Cummins has stated “it is the elected members themselves who have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of the authority, which include adopting an annual budget and authorising borrowing. They are democratically
accountable for all expenditure by the local authority.”

Does this, therefore, mean accountability for the legacy debt rests with councillors, and that those who sanctioned the expenditure under various headings must pay for it?

“It must be pointed out,” said Senator Cummins, “that it is a reserved function of the members themselves to deal with the budgetary process. That is something forgotten at times by members.”

Proposed measures for 2015 include the introduction of an €150 charge for call  outs to chimney fires and €400 per hour per fire brigade station for other domestic fires or incidents.

It also looks that there are proposals aimed at securing from members of the public full cost recovery for services provided by the council. This, however, does not include statutory charges, such as those for certain planning services and other statutory functions,
which the council is legally prevented from increasing.

The commercial rate may be widened to take in among other facilities some sports clubs, while this year or next property tax may also be increased. It will be recalled that just a few months ago, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael joined in voting against a proposal to reduce the local property tax on family homes in the county by 15%. Sligo currently has one of the highest levels of home property tax rates in the country.

Though not specifically identified in the Estimates, the council may move to make communities responsible for maintenance of local public roads. A scheme to this end was launched by the environment minister, Kelly.

It will not have escaped people that the council has transferred, or is the process of turning over, state of the art water and sewerage treatment infrastructure to Irish Water. Worth millions of euro, way more in fact than would cover the total of the prevailing
multimillion euro legacy debt, it defies understanding that compensation to the value of the assets has not been awarded to the debt-ridden council or communities from which locally paid for group water schemes were removed.

 

FINANCIAL MODEL BLAMED FOR SLIGO COUNCIL’S €80 MILLION DEBT PILE.

Model “not robust enough to withstand downturn in economy…”

Sligo News File Online.

Sligo County Council’s €80 million debt has been blamed on the authority’s financial model.

Council Chief Executive Ciaran Hayes has said he believes the model was not “robust enough to withstand the downturn in the economy in 2008.”

Mr. Hayes was commenting following warnings by environment minister Alan Kelly that the council could face dissolution unless it found a way of dealing with its massive debt overhang within the next couple of weeks.

In a statement to the media, Mr. Hayes said that while Sligo may be currently to the forefront nationally in relation to Local Government finance, it was “also to the fore in implementing government policy. We were encouraged to be ambitious, to acquire land, invest in our water and waste water infrastructure.”

Defending the investment as “the right decision,” he said the expenditure was a “major factor in enabling us to promote Sligo as a prime location for direct foreign investment.” However, the council was never recompensed for its investment in the assets, he said.

The result for the authority “was a significant increase in our operating costs, with a major decrease in our revenue base. This has left the council with a legacy debt which has arisen due to our adherence to our government policy and our investment in the county’s infrastructure.

“Sligo is not solely to blame for this situation, therefore it is not equitable to expect us to have exclusive responsibility for dealing with it.

“The department has acknowledged that difficult decisions have been taken by Sligo County Council to address its financial difficulties.

“We have reduced our work force by 188, representing a 30% reduction and an annual saving of €6 million. We have also delivered major savings across our various services.”

However, the department, he said, was seeking further reductions in staff and other costs, with the suggestion of discontinuing or curtailing a number of services. “The staff have been excellent in terms of the way they have engaged in this difficult process.”

Mr. Hayes said he had “no difficulty” in trying to achieve further savings and efficiencies, but the council was also left with the responsibility of funding services it did not deliver. “For example, our duty to pay for Coroner’s fees could result in expenditure of over €200,000 in 2015.

“We are obliged to cut services while at the same time paying for services over which we have no control.”

He said the department had requested the council to resolve its financial issues by 24th November, the date of the council’s budget meeting. “I think it is essential that any actions taken by the council and the department should be in the context of the independent report on the council’s finances carried out by Grant Thornton, which acknowledged that we had no mechanism to deal with our legacy debt.”

Having stated he believed the core issue of the debt situation was that the council’s financial model  “was not robust enough the withstand the major downturn in the economy in 2008,” he said the financial challenges now facing the council were symptons of a wider problem, “and Sligo is not the sole author of its difficulties.

“It has to be borne in mind that we have corporate goverance obligations, and we need sufficient numbers of staff with the requisite competence to fulfil these obligations.

“I am not being prescriptive in trying to identify and implement additional savings and efficiencies, but it has to be acknowledged on all sides that Sligo County Council’s legacy debt was caused by a funding model underpinning our investment programme that was simply not fit for purpose.”

 

NOOSE TIGHTENS FOR DEBT BELEAGUERED SLIGO COUNTY COUNCIL.

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,
Chairman,
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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

RTE DECISION TO SCRAP LONGWAVE RADIO SERVICE MUST BE REVERSED.

Senator says shutdown will isolate people in the North and the UK.

Sligo News File Online.

Fianna Fáil Senator Paschal Mooney is calling on the new RTE Authority to reverse its decision to withdraw its Longwave 252 kHZ service.  The broadcaster plans to close this essential service next year, despite extensive campaigns by groups in Northern Ireland and abroad demanding that it be retained. 

 Senator Mooney commented, “I have been inundated with emails and phonecalls from people in Northern Ireland and the UK who are extremely angry about RTE’s decision.  The move goes against the principles of the Good Friday Agreement, whereby there is an onus on RTE to transmit into Northern Ireland and to the Irish diaspora in the UK.

“At a recent meeting of the Irish Association for Economic, Social and Cultural Relations, Mr. Jeff Dudgeon, a former Trinity College graduate and Ulster Unionist member of Belfast City Council expressed strong opposition to RTE’s decision, which indicates that all sides of the community in Northern Ireland are against the closure of the service.

“There are no technical reasons RTE should shut down this transmitter, which was upgraded to modern standards in 2007 at considerable expense.  RTE has not answered the question as to what it will do with it if it shuts it.

“RTE has already bowed to pressure and has agreed to delay the closure of the transmitter until next year, but it needs to go further and scrap plans to wind down the service.

“I will be calling on the recently appointed RTE Authority, upon taking office, to immediately reverse this decision.  Chairperson Designate Moya Doherty will be appearing before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications in the coming weeks to have her appointment confirmed, and I will be taking the opportunity as a member of that committee to question her as to her position on the future of Longwave 252”, concluded Senator Mooney.

Minister Still Not Listening to Beef Farmers – Mac Sharry

‘Beef prices down 20%’

Sligo News File Online

Fianna Fáil Senator Marc Mac Sharry has criticised the Agriculture Minister for still not listening to farmers on the beef crisis.

 Senator Mac Sharry was speaking as the second protest by farmers outside beef factories in two weeks continues.

“It is clear that Minister Simon Coveney is still not listening to beef farmers or their concerns over the beef crisis, prices across the country are down as much as 20% this year.  Among the biggest issues are the unfair and discriminatory practices being used by the large supermarkets and processors which are penalising beef farmers and unfairly inhibiting fair trade between Ireland and Britain. 

“Minister Coveney has not been proactive enough in working with his Northern Irish counterpart to address this issue. The longer this goes on without a resolution, the worse it gets for farmers that are really struggling to survive.

“Minister Coveney must take the fight to Europe to seek enforcement of article 39b of the Lisbon Treaty which guarantees a fair living to farmers. An EU intervention is desperately needed to remove the barriers to trade being put in place by multiples and processors which is preventing farmers getting a fair price.

“Fianna Fáil has also called for an introductory grant scheme of €200 per animal per head under the beef genomics scheme even if it means 100% genotyping of the herd.  Tangible action must be taken and these measures would do a lot to ease the crisis for beef prices.”