IN the space of 15 hours this Friday, the short to medium-term future of Killarney will be decided. So please proceed with caution.
Lids will be flipped open on ballot boxes, pencils will be sharpened, polling stations will open at 7am sharp and by 10 o’clock tomorrow night, the people will have spoken.
How this wonderful town is shaped, developed, nurtured and presented, how our people are cared for, how our environment is protected, how enterprise is encouraged and supported, how essential services will be provided and how our future is mapped out will be the significant remit of the seven people selected to convene in the council chambers on the seventh day of June.
10 candidates are seeking support in the Killarney electoral area in a no-holds-barred, head-on battle to fill the seven seats and whether they experience joy or anguish when the votes are counted, each and every one of them deserve nothing but absolute respect, admiration and gratitude.
By placing their names on the ballot paper they are embracing the democratic process and for being brave enough to put themselves at the mercy of the people, in a manner often compared to a savage blood sport played out in the full and often unforgiving glare of the public, they must be saluted.
Those that can vote and do so are playing their small but essential part in the democratic process and by choosing to participate rather than observe, they are demonstrating a mature appreciation of a system our forefathers fought for as well as demonstrating a real pride in their native place.
Many of those that can vote and choose not to through apathy alone will most likely continue to whinge and moan but nobody should really pay too much heed. If you want to ensure your voice is heard, do so through the ballot box. Seasoned high stool analysts, anonymous keyboard snipers and those adamant that anybody that enters public life is fair game, cannot and should not be allowed to dictate the debate.
Those of the opinion that local politics is all about power, privilege, generous expenses claims, glorified talking shops, gold-plated junkets and jobs for the boys – and girls – couldn’t be more wide of the mark.
Take it from one who has been reporting on local authority meetings for longer than some of tomorrow’s candidates have been alive: the outgoing members of Killarney Municipal District Council laboured hard. They embraced their responsibilities enthusiastically and forcefully for those they represent, they spent hours around the debating table, day after day attending meetings, and even more time dealing with officials and agencies in an effort to do what they promised the people they would try to do. They failed at times. They succeeded too.
And at all time they had the best interests of the Killarney electoral area, and its people, at heart. That can never be disputed.
Those that continue to bemoan the 2014 decision to abolish the former town council structure will, for reasons best known to themselves, continue to reflect on sepia-toned images of the past which can be illuminated and glorified at grossly exaggerated levels when viewed through rose-tinted glasses. It’s time to move on.
The town councils were of their time. Some of them worked well. More didn’t. And as if anybody needs reminding, one of the last acts of the final town council in Killarney was to approve the disastrous traffic junction linking High Street with St Anne’s Road and Rock Road.
Despite half-hearted mutterings from the corridors of power, the town councils will not return and it’s interesting that many of those that are leading the charge for them to be restored voted in favour of scrapping them in the first place.
It’s important to consider, too, why the town councils were axed. The Local Government Efficiency Review Group report of 2012 concluded that they were an unnecessary additional overhead in the local government service with an obvious duplication of administrative work resulting from the existence of a number of local councils in the same county.
There is understandably great upset – and considerable disquiet which is most justified – that the bulk of the commercial rates collected in Killarney is now assigned to a central fund in Tralee and that only a percentage returns to this side of the railway track in Farranfore for essential projects and services.
The vast majority of the rates collected in Killarney should, of course, stay in Killarney. The premier tourist town in the country is the major ratepayer in Kerry and with that in mind, it’s surely not an unreasonable request.
With the Local Property Tax, 80 per cent of what is collected in Kerry stays in the county with 20 per cent going nationally. Surely, a similar share-out should be possible in Killarney when it comes to rates.
Despite the extremely limited budget, thanks to a very solid performance by officials and elected members, Killarney Municipal District Council has invested wisely and spent astutely over the five-year term of the outgoing council.
A lot of boxes have been ticked:
- After a 20-year campaign that had reached absolutely desperate measures, a plan is finally in place for a major upgrade of the death trap bypass.
- After several years of on-off negotiations, disputes and frustration, a new burial ground was finally developed and opened at Knockeenduff. Whether or not the location was the correct choice is arguable.
- After years in the ravages of recession, with hardly a fuse being changed yet alone a block being laid, a new 20-house social housing project came to fruition last July when tenants received the keys of their new homes at Lios an Fhia and work is currently underway on a new 61-unit social housing development at Derreen. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be – but it’s a start.
- Two new inner link roads are to be built from Ballydribeen to Deerpark and from High Street to New Street via Bohereen na Goun to alleviate traffic congestion.
- A new state-of-the-art walkway and cycleway from Knockreer to Muckross has been designed and is shovel ready, pending funding.
- Steps have finally been taken to finalise a masterplan for the Aras Phadraig site and expressions of interest were invited – and received – for the former Pretty Polly plant.
- Major improvement works have been completed on Port Road and on Muckross Road.
- A new car and bus park has been opened on Rock Road, freeing up several spaces where buses had been parked on Lewis Road.
- The main town car parks have been resurfaced and relined.
- The landmark town hall, which was in a sad state, has been completely refurbished and made fit for purpose.
- An ultra-modern indoor/outdoor performance space and cultural area is being developed on East Avenue Road.
All of the above should be remembered when the epitaph for Killarney Municipal District Council 2014-2019 is being penned. It is without question a case of a lot done, much more to do and several mistakes have been made over the past five years.
But all of the eight outgoing councillors have done Killarney some service and, for that, they deserve recognition and respect.
Whatever transpires at the count centre this weekend, there will be at least one new face around the table int he town hall with Cllr John Joe Culloty having stepped aside and Cllr Bobby O’Connell contesting int he Castleisland electoral area.
We wish all the candidates – outgoing and incoming, experienced and novice – the very best of luck and we thank them for giving is a choice when it comes to selecting those we want to represent us.
Be careful what you wish for this Friday. Killarney needs to be in very good hands.
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