North Tipperary County Council has deferred until the autumn a decision on whether to accept or reject a report by county manager Joe MacGrath into how council services will operate following the amalgamation of North and South Tipperary county councils.
The decision was made after a proposal from Cllr Seamus Morris to reject the report was initially backed by Cllr Michael Smith. However, Cllr Smith later withdrew his support for the SF councillor’s motion.
Councillors all acknowledged Mr McGrath’s input, along with that of the merger steering committee, into the report on delivering services, but they had concerns over proposals to close area offices and how that would affect about 20 per cent of the council’s customer’s base. They also had concerns over job losses and any diminution of services.
Mr MacGrath had explained that the council was introducing a new customer services team to deal with queries and pointed out that 80 per cent of people deal with the council on the phone. He further explained that 79 per cent of council receipts were now issued through banks or post offices as people used IT access on a greater scale.
However, Cllr John Hogan, along with other councillors said they had to look after the 20 per cent who still used council offices. But Mr McGrath that when the overall per centage was broken down into the offices to be closed - Newport, Roscrea, Templemore and Borrisokane - that figure was less than 5 per cent.
Councillors were concerned that the council would keep a presence in those towns where offices are to close, with Cllr Hogan highlighting the fact that Templemore had lost its court sittings to Thurles and it was to lose Garda members to Thurles.
Cllr Morris rejected an earlier statement by Mr MacGrath that the “country is broke”, saying: “I am disappointed with the terminology. The country is rich, not broke. It is just being used wrongly. We allow corporations to come in here and use it as a tax haven. Ministers and their advisers are paid excessively, but the ordinary person is being crucified”.
He claimed they couldn’t accept the report because they “still don’t know what’s out there”, urging that any decision be postponed until councillors know what is to be put in place.
Cllr John Carroll was concerned that the closure of area offices would mean a reduction in services.
His FF colleague, Cllr Smith said: “This document is not getting my approval.”
Cllr Jim Ryan said it was “premature” to adopt the report and he couldn’t “support the abolition of 150 years of the town council in Thurles”.
Cllr Eddie Moran felt it was “a disgrace” that Deputy Noel Coonan hadn’t spoken out about the closure of Roscrea and Temoplemore in the Dail.
Cllr Micheal Lowry maintained they were in a difficult position and “too many blanks need to be filled in”.
Mr MacGrath asked the councilors to allow him consider their suggestions and report back in the autumn. He revealed there would be no compulsory job losses.
But when Cllr Morris urged that the report be rejected in the meantime, the county manager said he would not be able to comply with the proposal.
When it was pointed out by Cllr Lowry that the decision was a reserved function and councillors did not have a vote on it, Mr MacGrath said: “You have called it correctly.”
However, when Cllr Morris refused to withdraw his proposal, Cllr Smith said he would withdraw his support for it providing the manager returned in the early autumn to allow the council to discuss his reposes to their concerns.