McCreevy Announces Decentralization
Donegal Town welcomes it with open arms
A red letter day for Donegal Town last Wednesday when Charlie McCreevy, during his budget speech, made the surprise announcement that 10,000 civil servants would decentralize to the provinces. Among the towns to benefit from this mass exodous out of the city are three in this county, Donegal Town, Buncrana, and Gweedore. Coming to Donegal Town, 230 personnel from Mary Coughlans department of Social and Family Affairs - an immense influx into a town with a population of less then 2,500. And remember these are not just 230 individuals - a large proportion will be families, moving bag and baggage, into this area, a move that will have immense repercussions for every aspect of local society and infrastructure. Housing, schools, roads, healthcare, parking, retail, commercial, leisure - every part of our economy and way of life will be affected.
We have all heard over the past days national and local commentators denigrating the ministerial patronage involved in these decisions and questioning whether the initiative is deliverable - and it is right to empathize with towns like Ballyshannon that have been left out - but this time its the turn of Donegal Town - and, sorry Phonsie, Declan and Barry - YIPPEE! - were delighted.
No matter of what political persuasion, it has to be handed to Charlie McCreevy, who never does the expected - and to our own Minister Mary Coughlan - for granting to our area potentially the biggest economic boost it has ever experienced in its long and illustrious history.
Among the 100 plus people who attended the meeting in the Abbey Hotel last week, to discuss the draft Donegal Town Local Area Plan, were many who arrived with baggage - not there to discuss options for the good of the town but rather to pursue personal and group agendas. This recognised, it was still an impressive turnout and an equally impressive expression of local community interest. While it never got to the question and answer level, the format allowed for the interplay of ideas and aspirations, constructive debate and, from each table, definite conclusions.
Two of Donegal Times pet themes have always been the development of the Mart/Bosco area and the creation and conservation of green areas around town. It is the opinion of this paper that the large tract of land occupied by the Mart/Bosco, taking in railway and CIE buildings, school and athletics track, is the most valuable site within the town boundaries. Any plan for it should take an overall view and be evaluated carefully - nothing that would hinder a comprehensive far-sighted blueprint for this area should be allowed obstruct this vision in the short-term.
We also have consistently stressed the importance to the town of the river and bay area. A lot more should be made of these natural amenities - also of the bank and Abbey walks - efforts should continue to link Magherabeg with the Castle by pedestrian route and expand green areas around town, as in town park alongside river, behind castle.
Thanks must be extended to the Community Chamber which hosted the occasion, planners Denis Kelly and Catherine Crawford, and facilitators from Donegal County Council who, by their presence, lent weight and significance to the event.
Donegal Times was there to record the occasion and this was noted from the top table, as was Margaret Gallaghers fine reporting of the previous Donegal Electoral Area meeting in Lifford. But where were the rest of the south county media? This, potentially, was one of the most important meetings ever held in Donegal Town, a meeting intended to change the direction the town will take, infrastructurally and commercially, for many decades to come. But if Donegal Times had not been present in the Abbey Hotel last week, you would have no way of knowing what happened. Local media should note - not all news happens between 9 - 6, Monday to Friday.
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Christmas and New Year Greetings
To all Our Readers
Pat and Lynn reminisce on Christmases past at the Festive Evening in Magee of Donegal after the switch-on of lights.
Mary brings 230 jobs to Town
Best decision ever made - Minister
In a surprise development during the budget speech last Wednesday, Charlie McCreevy announced the biggest decentralisation in the history of the state, with eight government departments moving out of Dublin into the provinces. While none of these are coming to Donegal, the county will benefit from sections of the Department of Social and Family Affairs locating to Donegal Town (230 jobs), Buncrana (120 jobs) - with 30 jobs for Gweedore from the Dept of Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
In a statement, Dr. McDaid, Minister of State at the Department of Transport, said that the move would be worth millions to the local economy and would impact on areas such as housing, schooling and investment in local amenities. Dr. McDaid said he could see the offices up and running within four years. Sites have already been earmarked in Donegal Town and Buncrana. The towns concerned identified sites in their submissions to government. In Donegal Town, there is a site next to the new council offices.
The minister said transfers to the chosen towns would be voluntary, with no redundancies. An implementation committee is being established to drive the programme forward. he confirmed.
Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Eamon OCuiv said that construction of the new offices at the 53 centres should be underway within 12 months, with departments completing their moves within 3 years.
The President of the Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute, Mr Aidan Hogan, said that there would be an immediate house price rise of at least 5% in areas to which civil servants will be moving as a result of decentralization - more in areas further away from the capital. He said that after the three years it is estimated to take to decentralize, house prices in the chosen towns would rise even further.
According to a front page report in the Irish Times on Friday, top civil servants were left stunned by Mr. McCreevys announcement. They were only told of the ministers decision on the Monday afternoon, less than 48 hours before his budget speech. While the decentralisation plan is expected to be highly popular with lower civil service grades, who are struggling with Dublin house prices and the citys higher cost of living, middle-ranking and senior officals are noticably less keen.
Part of an editorial in the same paper read: the government has insisted that civil servants will not be forced to leave Dublin. No compensation will be paid. Given their past reluctance to uproot themselves and their families, however, the prospect of securing early agreement to the various transfers appears remote. Mr McCreevy has spoken of completing these reforms by the end of 2007. But negotiations have not even begun with the trade unions involved. It has taken the coalition government four years to nominate the towns and cities that will benefit from decentralization. Completion of this programme is likely to take at least 10 years.
A front page report in the Irish Times on Saturday had this The government has bluntly told the countrys highest ranking civil servants not to oppose plans to transfer 10,000 civil servants out of Dublin. The tough line was adopted after it emerged that a number of heads of Government departments have serious reservations about the reforms.
But the Irish Independents editorial of Friday 5th December was more positive. Part of it read this years budget surprise to move 10,000 civil servants to some 53 towns around the country, amounts to a real act of faith. The finance minister may stand accused of gimmickery for delivering such a radical proposal with such a flourish, but it was welcome nonetheless.
But editorials and opinion polls in weekend papers cast doubt on the governments ability to progress the decentralisation programme citing several reasons including:
Reluctance of civil servants to move for family and promotional reasons. Difficulty of linking far-off provincial counties, with duties in Dail and home base. Departmental interchange becoming unwieldly when headquarters scattered throughout country. No green or white papers published as discussion or decision documents. Only 48 hours notice given to higher public servants. The creation a two-tier civil service. Unending milage claims because of long distances between different branches of same department.
Summing up, an editorial in The Sunday Independent read - the proposal is neither workable or desirable. The Sunday Business Post opined The government plan needs a reality check - and quickly.
A spokesman for the Civil and Public Services Union speaking on Morning Ireland yesterday (Monday) said relocation problems were only one of a range of issues - but the main point, he emphasised, is that cash is required for the move. The political dimension is a matter for government, he said, but we are responsible for our members.
At a meeting this union is due to have with government tomorrow (Wednesday), relocation will come up for discussion, said this spokesman. Government, he claimed, will have to invest money in this initiative.
But business people in Donegal Town would allow no such negativity to cloud their optimism. Christy Dunlevy, Inver Oil, said great idea, will help town - hope business people will pull together - but we need fair play from planners.
Ernan McGettigan, excited and delighted but worried about time time frame and location. Other towns had previously been earmarked - five years down the road policy still not implemented.
Tony Foody, about time Donegal got something - great boost for town
Joyce McMullin, Fine Gael candidate in next years council elections, good for town - a positive development that will help all sections of the community