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*The Post Office Field is one of the transformational sites. Photograph: Pascal Brooks

Clare councillors have voted 23-5 in favour of drawing down a €10m loan for the Ennis 2040 Designated Activity Company (DAC).

Elected representatives debated the matter for in excess of ninety minutes on Monday with an attempted amendment by Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) to delay the process rejected. The matter was initially included on the agenda for the May meeting of the Council but was withdrawn at the eleventh hour to allow briefings be held with councillors prior to its discussion.

Nine transformational sites have been identified as part of the Ennis 2040 strategy. Gerry Cahill formerly of Roche is to chair the DAC’s Board of Directors and it is also set to include AIB’s Kieran Considine, founder of TTM Healthcare Brian Crowley, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG), Cllr Ann Norton (IND), Clare County Council’s Head of Finance Noeleen Fitzgerald and Director of Service Liam Conneally.

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More than €10m should be borrowed for Ennis 2040, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) stated as he proposed the loan be drawn down, “if we don’t do this we’re letting multiples of tens of millions slip out of the county”.

Former Mayor of Clare and Ennis, Colleran Molloy seconded the proposal. She believed the strength of the county town would benefit Clare as a whole. She rejected comments that rural Clare had received little investment and referred to the borrowing of millions to match fund projects such as Vandeleur Walled Gardens, the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience and Loop Head Lighthouse. “We are mandated by the people of Clare to serve their best interests. Were we to deny ourselves of this opportunity, we would be shooting ourselves in the foot”.

Similar approaches have been taken in Galway and Limerick, Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) said as he voiced his support. Thousands of jobs will result from Ennis 2040, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) predicted, “€10m to Ennis will mean staying up with Killarney, Westport and Kilkenny. Ennis is capital of Clare, there will be thousands of jobs for people of Ennis and entire county”.

Powers will be extended to the DAC “that I cannot support,” Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) stated as he called it “an affront to democracy”, he pinpointed Shannon’s inclusions in various strategies which were of little benefit to the town. Cllr Kelly expressed his shock at the rejection of his amendment in what he labelled “one of the most disappointing moments of my life”, he clarified that he was not against investment in Ennis but stressed it needed to be equal countywide. The Lissycasey man remarked that West Clare “is dying” with four schools closed, “serious problems” and “raw sewerage running down the streets of Kilkee”.

Council Chief Executive, Pat Dowling said the DAC would not be a private company and would be accountable to the local authority. “Do we want our county town to stagnate or fossilise or do we want it to benefit the entire county. I will make a list of all the grants that have gone to West Clare since my arrival. We spent €2.5m putting digital hub into Ennistymon, members of Ennis MD did not object, they saw the benefit”.

A debate of them versus us was saddening, Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF) opined, “I beg to differ that it is a private company, we’re advocating our responsibilities, we have sight but no control”. Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) lamented the division stemming from the discussion and how the issue was handled, “local jobs is the only survivor for rural Clare. It is very much about getting the balance right across our county”.

Rural areas must progress in tandem with Ennis, Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) outlined. The document was welcomed as ambitious and impressive by Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG). Merits of the document were also lauded by Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF), “anything that will benefit Ennis will benefit the entire county”.

All Board members of the DAC will be there on a voluntary capacity, Cllr Norton commented. “You have to spend money to make money, that is very clear with Ennis 2040, that will go out to rest of the county”. In response, Cllr G Flynn detailed the projected annual costs for the first five years include salaries and office costs, “the initial salary costs are estimated in the region of €250,000 to €300,000, these are not volunteers, they are highly paid executives with no real accountability to the public”.

More time was allocated to members of the Ennis MD during the debate, Cllr Pat Burke (FG) felt. He warned that the proposal was rushed through at the meeting. “The perception to me is that Ennis councillors have had more time to maybe force it through. I’m all for Ennis thriving, of course I am, I’m not stupid”.

When the matter was put to a vote, councillors voted 23-5 in favour of drawing down the €10m loan. Taoiseach Micheál Martin (FF) is due to launch the strategy in the coming weeks.

How they voted:

FOR: Cllr Mary Howard (FG), Cllr Mark Nestor (FF), Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG), Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), Cllr Paul Murphy (FG), Cllr Ann Norton (IND), Cllr Pat Daly (FF), Cllr Joe Cooney (FG), Cllr Pat Hayes (FF), Cllr Pat Burke (FG), Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF), Cllr John Crowe (FG), Cllr Michael Begley (IND), Cllr PJ Ryan (IND), Cllr Pat McMahon (FF), Cllr Pat O’Gorman (FF), Cllr Shane Talty (FF), Cllr Joe Killeen (FF), Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG), Cllr Bill Chambers (FF), Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG), Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF), Cllr Ian Lynch (IND).

AGAINST: Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF), Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND), Cllr Donna McGettigan (SF), Cllr PJ Kelly (FF), Cllr Susan Crawford (GP).

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