THE future of Ballyshannon without a town council has sparked fears it could lose out in the future with one describing their final meeting last Tuesday week as “the wake”.
It might have taken a Royal Charter to establish Ballyshannon in 1613 but this all came to an end this with the enactment of the Local Government Reform Act which brought 401 years of local democracy to an end. The act makes legal provision for the reforms set out in the Government’s Action Programme for Effective Local Government – ironically entitled, Putting People First.
At their final meeting in the town council office members agreed something was needed to replace the body in order to oversee how the new municipal authority format within an enlarged Donegal Co. Council would work for the town.
Fianna Fáil Cllr Billy Grimes described their final meeting as a “very, very sad day” adding it was wrong a system that had served the people of Ballyshannon so well was now being thrown on the scrapheap.
He criticised Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan who came to Ballyshannon to explain his theory behind the abolition of the town council, still hadn’t replied to him on an issue he raised with him.
“To this date, and this is our last meeting as a Town Council, I have yet to receive a reply from him although he assured me from the stage in the Abbey Centre that I would have that reply on his return to his office in Dublin.”
He said the united front presented by councillors ensured the good of the town always came first.
“That was unique and it proved to be the right way forward and I think that is why Ballyshannon Town Council got as much work done as it did and that’s a credit to everyone who was at the table,” he said.
He added although they were gone as a town council, those who were elected in the recent election were there to represent them and he would keep the pressure on them to deliver for the town.
The longest serving councillor, Fianna Fáil’s Pat O’Malley agreed saying their meetings were about the town, not about politics or personal gain.
“I think that is one of the greatest problems we have now – we’ve had 400 years of democracy and now it’s gone. You see the Far East and the Middle East fighting to get democracy; we had it but it has been taken and replaced by a municipal authority but no one knows how this is going to work. Unfortunately they’ll know in Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Buncrana and Letterkenny as they will lose out because they had their own money and that has been taken away.
“We’ve been put into the cauldron with every other town and I know every other town will probably say it’s for the better but when you’ve had 400 years or democracy and acting on your own behalf and doing things for your own town, it’s a big, big loss.
“Hopefully the new council will be of benefit to this area, we’ll have to wait and see what happens but I think we’ll have to put something in its place – not a Parish Council but a Town Council or something to enhance the town and make sure those elected to the County Council or municipal authorities will be looking after Ballyshannon – if we don’t do that the town will just be forgotten about.”
He added he felt the town was not in the best of shape.
“Ballyshannon does need a large influx of work or money because the town has suffered. Just look at the number of shops closing and most of you have seen through the canvass the number of empty houses. This is detrimental to the town that at one time kept the whole west of Ireland going up as far as Enniskillen. All the towns in this area were looked after by Ballyshannon and now we have actually died and this I suppose tonight is actually the wake,” he said.
Town manager Liam Ward said the new changes in local government placed a challenge on the structures that had been put in place such as maintaining the level of services in places such as Ballyshannon.
“I don’t underestimate that and I’m sure the people elected for this area will be reminded of that by people around this table and the people of the town,” he said.
Former councillors Sean Og Kane and John McIntyre also said they hoped the loss of local democracy would not impact too hard on the town in the future.
Town Mayor, Fine Gael Cllr John Meehan closed the meeting calling it the end of an era. He spoke of the council’s connection with the local community and understood and managed the dynamics of local politics well.
“We’ve had our detractors too but for the most part people don’t see what we do. It’s a difficult challenge but it comes with the job of being a councillor but for the most part we’ve all endeavoured to do a good job in representing the interests of the town,” he said.
If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Now editorial team. Between 9am and 5pm Monday to Sunday please call 074 9112712. Between 5pm and midnight please call or text 086 792 2103. Or you can email [email protected] at any time.