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*Ennis Market. Photograph: Martin Connolly

Built at a cost of €500,000 as part of a €1.75m redevelopment, the Market Building in Ennis has continued to struggle to attract traders with its primary function now as a car park with twenty seven spaces.

Pick up a copy of The Clare Echo available for free this week for a detailed look on the story of the Ennis Market so far featuring the viewpoint from businesses, politicians and ideas on the way forward.

Initially approved by the now defunct Ennis Town Council, the project was designed to house traders, the farmers market who temporarily moved to Roslevan but have stayed there since and other personnel selling goods.

At the opening of the Garraunakilla facility in September 2016, then Mayor of Ennis Cllr Ann Norton stated the “very significant investment by Clare County Council in the heart of Ennis will enhance the market to standards expected in the modern age. It will provide traders with a quality and convenient location to promote their locally-sourced and produced goods. We will continue to enhance the facility over the coming months so that its use can be maximised for the town.”

Before any red tape was cut, concerns had been raised in the Ennis Town Council and Ennis Municipal District. In March 2011, Cllr Johnny Flynn had sought feasibility research be undertaken into an Ennis equivalent to Limerick’s Milk Market. The Fine Gael representative tabled similar motions in April 2013 and in July 2014 when then Director of Service Ger Dollard advised him that the Garraunakilla site was chosen by elected representatives on the Ennis Town Council.

Councillors received a detailed briefing on the proposal on the market project not long after the 2014 local elections. Dollard told the May 2015 meeting that residents and businesses in the Garraunakilla area as well as the members of the Farmers Market were all happy with the final design, “It is hoped that in the future it may be possible to have a seven day week market in operation. When finished this will be a vibrant location which will add significantly to the centre of Ennis”. Members were “unanimous” in their support for the project, minutes from the meeting stated.

At the same meeting, Cllr Flynn was seconded in his request by ex councillor James Breen in his call to create a covered market liaison group. “The Council’s primary objective is to create a successful, viable and sustainable commercial and community operation for the proposed covered market. It should be noted that the market will have a dual function and provide a car parking facility when not in use,” Dollard replied.

Council officials in September 2016 confirmed there had been “significant interest from traders to trade in the Market Building”. However five months on, an “insufficient amount of interest” from traders prompted the decision to close the Market on Saturdays and utilise it as a car park instead, opening hours of 8am to 8pm were agreed in November 2016.

Cllr Pat Daly in April 2017 suggested similar markets in the Mid West be researched in an attempt to increase business in the Market. “The potential of the market as a multi-purpose facility is clearly evident with many ideas emerging for the use of the space,” Ann Reynolds the then Administrative Officer replied, she advised that different events held there including Biafest and Art for All received positive reports while plans were being finalised for a Fleadh Nua concert and Fleadh TV to broadcast from the Market building.

Such plans came to fruition with Noeleen Fitzgerald, the Council’s Fleadh co-ordinator later pointing out, “With the success of the new Ennis Market building hosting Fleadh TV it is hoped that this will have a positive effect going forward. Following on from recent criticism of the cost of the building at Ennis Market, Fleadh 2017 has highlighted the building as a venue and public space which can be utilised for various other events into the future”.

Members in September 2018 acknowledged the Market Building has been a challenge but was a successful event venue during both Fleadhanna and other successful festivals and events in the town, in addition to its use as a car park on a daily basis. It was agreed the future use of Ennis Market needs to be addressed and decisions made. One suggestion heard that “it may be time to outsource the running of this facility to the private sector who are more qualified in the area of markets”.

A tense debate on the venue took place in October 2018 with James Breen outlining that councillors were “getting it in the neck from every part of the county about the white elephant. Why not turn it into a gold elephant”. Former Mayor of Clare, Tom McNamara took exception with the terminology used, “It’s absolutely awful, that name, and it needs to be dropped, and it needs to be dropped now,” and added that the success of the facility would not happen overnight.

Twelve months on, no success has materialised, no definite future plans have been outlined and certainly there has been no comparisons with gold elephants.

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