A very interesting debate between local area representatives, candidates in the upcoming election and members of Longford Women’s Link (LWL) was held last week.
The event which was chaired by political commentator Johnny Fallon saw sitting councillors Mae Sexton (Ind), Peggy Nolan (FG), Cllr Gerry Warnock (Ind) and election hopefuls Seamus Butler and Yvonne Ní Mhurchú take questions from the floor, as all sides of the community in Longford came together to try and find solutions to the economic crisis that has hit both town and county, and to endeavour to bring real and necessary change to local government.
The major issues to the fore on the day included the excessive powers that executive members of Longford Co Council have, and how citizen representation can be utilised fairly and effectively on new boards that will be established in the coming months, changing utterly how funding will be distributed to community groups across the county.
“We need transparency and it is very necessary at this stage that we as local authority members regain the public trust,” said Cllr Sexton, adding, “I have already proposed that a ‘Watchdog’ be established at local level so that transparency will in fact be evident”.
Former Co Councillor, Seamus Butler told the event that Longford had been the only country in Ireland that had not been visited by the IDA for investment purposes over the last five years. “If we want investment here in Longford, we must do it for ourselves - we don’t even need multinationals here, a small number of small to medium enterprises would bring Co Longford back on its feet; we need to create a mini IDA in Longford and do it for ourselves.”
Speaking about the importance of self belief in these ever changing times, Cllr Nolan said that she would “sever a limb for Co Longford”. “There is a lack of leadership and self belief in this county and I will say this, whoever is elected on the premise that they believe in this county and are prepared to sell it,” she added. “I know the problems that we have - we all do - but we must take those problems, discuss what to do and find a solution; that is what we need to do.”
Town Councillor,Gerry Warnock then pointed to the absolute necessity of Longford local authority developing a job creation plan and subsequently implementing that plan through the dedication, hard work and sheer determination of the “whole community”. “I have read the programme for local government reform and when I see situations arise under that plan where the minister has given himself the power to take money from the Local Government Fund, I wonder how any local authority can provide services if the funds are being taken away,” Cllr Warnock fumed. “My canvass has been a real eye opener - there is not area in Longford that has not been subjected to drugs or some form of anti social behaviour; we must face our problems and deal with them head on.”
Ms Ní Mhurchú added, “As principal of the Gael scoil Longfoirt, I know the issues that staff, pupils and families face today”. “We have to focus on solutions; we need joined up thinking on an enhancement plan for Longford, and work together to make this county a better place for ourselves, our families and our elderly citizens.
In conclusion Mr Butler said that the changes to the development boards indicated to him, that “This government is focused on pulling rural Ireland apart”. “LCRL was responsible for LEADER funding and now the Government is talking about giving that power to local authorities who know nothing about the administration of funding like this,” he added. “Of course it is worrying, as is the fact that there are only bits of information in relation to these changes available. People must realise the limitations of local government and there is no doubt that Co Longford has not been represented well as national level.”