Longford groups braced for swingeing cuts

Community groups likely to be affected by the refusal of over 5,000 Longford homeowners to pay the Government’s controversial household charge have warned of the potentially devastating repercussions funding cuts could have on their day to day activities going forward.

Community groups likely to be affected by the refusal of over 5,000 Longford homeowners to pay the Government’s controversial household charge have warned of the potentially devastating repercussions funding cuts could have on their day to day activities going forward.

Some voluntary organisations like Abbeylara’s Active Retirement Group are nervously awaiting the outcome of cuts to local government spending.

Breda Small, the group’s secretary, said changes to its normal allocation of grant aid would almost inevitably impact on what future activities it could offer locals.

“We have 25 active members so yes it would affect things,” she said bluntly. “To be honest we would be lost without it (council assistance).”

Ms Small said minimisations, however large or small, could not have come at a worse time. She said although local authority funding amounted to little more than a “couple of hundred euro”, the difference it made was enormous.

“We would have to fundraise much more, but the thing is people just haven’t got it (money to give). We are very dependent on the council,” she said.

Earlier this week, Longford County Council confirmed compliance rates stood at a relatively modest 58 per cent, a figure which high ranking figures said could lead to a potentially “catastrophic shortfall” in funding.

The warning has also led to growing unease from other voluntary bodies. A spokesperson from Longford Show and Country Fair said the organisation would be left “very disappointed” by possible fiscal alterations, a view which was also shared by local environmental associations.

“Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the household tax, it would be most unfortunate if services to the Newtowncashel area would be curtailed as a result of that,” confided the south Longford village’s Tidy Towns Chairman, Michael Murray.

Equally, arts groups headed by Longford town’s Backstage Theatre face an anxious next few weeks before learning whether its community grant for next year remains intact.

Mona Considine, manager of the Farneyhoogan based venue, said all aspects governing its everyday operations would have to be debated if large scale cuts are enforced.

Pointing to a 30 per cent decrease over the past three years in its Arts Council funding countered somewhat by a 100 per cent rise in council sponsored aid, Ms Considine said there was little denying the importance linked to community grant assistance.

“It will (cuts) impact in lots of different ways. It might affect what we can do programme-wise although we are fortunate that we have a good relationship with production companies. But we will have to look at our budget and shave where we can,” she said.

Local politicians have likewise been quick to voice their own concerns. Co Mayor Cllr Sean Farrell said the threat of looming budget cuts illustrated the huge challenges currently facing councils up and down the country.

“That is the reality of it,” he said. “There is no point in wishing it away. The Local Government Fund has been cut already. I do feel strongly for the people who have paid (household charge), they are entitled to services, but they are being deprived of them by the people who haven’t paid, won’t pay and are simply refusing to pay.”