Fermoy Town Mayor, Cllr. Olive Corcoran, opened proceedings and spoke of the long history of close cooperation between Fermoy Town Council and Avondhu Blackwater since the company was formed in the mid 1990’s. She expressed her huge disappointment at the Government decision to abolish Town Councils throughout the country. She also highlighted her concerns about Government proposals to also make fundamental changes to the Local Development sector whereby the management of key funding supports would move away from Avondhu Blackwater Partnership to the Local Authority.
The Mayor was keen to acknowledge the work of each programme provided by Avondhu Blackwater Partnership, such as LEADER, The Local & Community Development Programme, The Rural Transport Programme, Community Connect, The Rural Social Scheme and the TÚS Initiative.
The reception was attended by fellow councillors Michael Hanley, John Murphy, Tadgh O’Donovan, Noel McCarthy and Frank O’Flynn who all spoke strongly in support of Avondhu Blackwater Partnership and echoed the Mayors comments regarding the abolition of Fermoy Town Council. They were unanimous in stating that Avondhu Blackwater Partnership should continue its important role in managing Local Development Programmes into the future.
Chairperson of Avondhu Blackwater Partnership, Mr. Seán Hegarty, thanked the Mayor and fellow councillors for honouring the company at the civic reception. He explained that the current proposal put forward by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government involves the closer alignment of local government and local development, and would see local authorities take control of two key programmes – LEADER and LCDP (Local and Community Development Programme).
While Avondhu Blackwater Partnership welcomes many other aspects of the proposed reform of local government, the voluntary board of management at the company see this proposal, in no uncertain terms, as a mistake.
Avondhu Blackwater’s Chief Executive, Valerie Murphy, thanked the council members and their staff for the civic reception and highlighted the myriad of projects that involved cooperation between the two bodies over the 20 years that the company has been delivering a range of EU and Exchequer funded programmes.
She paid tribute to the hundreds of volunteers throughout the 35 communities in the company’s area of operation, which incorporates the Fermoy, Mallow and Blarney hinterlands, people who, she said, come together to form a Playground Committee, Community Hall Renovation Group, those who give of their time to support Meals-on-Wheels, the neighbours who call on the elderly and vulnerable, the Tidy-Towns committees and other groups too numerous to mention who collectively engage in thousands of hours of voluntary work, given with a good heart for the betterment of society as a whole.
She acknowledged, in particular, the voluntary effort of Cllr. Tadgh O’Donovan who sat on the board of Avondhu Blackwater for many years and is currently a member of the Project Evaluation Team, and Cllrs. Noel McCarthy and Pa O’Driscoll who, along with County Councillor, Frank O’Flynn, are currently directors on the board. Valerie highlighted the work of Cllr. Michael Hanley, who she said, had the strategic vision to form Fermoy Enterprise Board in the mid 1980’s and whose foresight provided the template for the Government to set up dedicated Enterprise Boards across the country.
Valerie paid special tribute to the late Cllr. Aileen Pyne who was a member of the board since the mid 90s and who was a close personal friend. Valerie also reserved a special mention for two former council members, the late Cllrs. Roger Lonergan and Tom Phelan.
Niall Healy, Town Engineer gave all present an update from the council’s perspective and stated that Local Development Companies should have a central role in the planning of local development programmes. He noted that local authorities do not have the experience nor expertise in Local Development Programmes and it would therefore make sense that the Local Development Companies, in particular, play a key role in the coming months in informing the strategy for the next LEADER Programme and Local & Community Development Programme.
In conclusion, Valerie thanked the company staff and expressed her concern that any change to the current delivery mechanism of Local Development funding would result in a significant decrease in local democracy and active citizenship, and would position communities further away from funding and services. This, she felt, would compound the issues that are already likely to arise by the abolition of the Town Councils.