*Fine Gael colleagues, Cllr Johnny Flynn & Cllr Mary Howard were among those to clash.
RISING LEVELS OF CRIME and anti-social behaviour in the county town served as the main discussion at the first meeting of the Ennis Municipal District following its summer recess.
There may have been a hiatus of one month but it didn’t take long for Ennis MD representatives to return to their now frequent bouts of jibes, all of which have stemmed from disagreements over the Ennis 2040 Strategy.
Claims of ‘exercises for optics’, ‘undermining’ and preparation for next year’s local elections were among the digs thrown around the Council Chamber.
Not for the first time, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) issued a proposal seeking the establishment of a sub-committee within the Clare Joint Policing Committee to focus solely on issues within the Ennis MD. “The loss of the successful Ennis JPC in 2014 which had operated effectively and efficiently since 2009 has I believe been detrimental to crime prevention and public safety in Ennis town centre, suburbs and wider Municipal District”.
Waving a file of notes from the meetings of the Ennis JPC which took place from 2009 to 2014, Cllr Flynn recalled that they met four times a year to discuss the issues faced by residents and businesses, “the minutes are there to show what was dealt with”. He continued, “I don’t want to be too negative about what is happening in Ennis, it has been Ireland’s friendliest and tidiest town, it is one we all love and are proud of however acts of violence and local drug dealing are becoming too common”.
According to Cllr Flynn, behaviour in the town has disimproved since COVID-19. “There are urban issues that need to be addressed, 1 in 10 women in rural areas feel unsafe, it is 4 in 10 in urban areas,” he stated.
Seconding the motion, Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF) commented, “if it was so successful in 2014 is why was it put aside, it needs to be re-energised. We have a wonderful town here, to deal with issues we need to talk to Gardaí and get to the root of them before they become a problem”. Ennis businesses are struggling with anti-social behaviour presently, he added.
Communication between the Ennis MD and the Gardaí has been “really good,” said Cllr Ann Norton (IND). A member of the Clare JPC, she said she was against the proposal. “I would have no problem standing aside on the JPC if Cllr Flynn or any members of Ennis MD would like to represent the Ennis MD for the next couple of months if they feel they can be of benefit or if they feel they can bring more issues to the JPC. I am open to giving up that opportunity if someone is up for it. The JPC are not open to having a sub-committee”.
When the proposal was previously rejected in 2021, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) voiced her disappointment. Two years on from supporting such a bid, she called Cllr Flynn’s motion an “optics exercise”. She felt Ennis was not alone in experiencing instances of crime and drug dealing.
“This isn’t optics, this is five years of work that was done, there is no need to be disrespectful,” replied Cllr Flynn.
Quin native Clare in response referred to Cllr Norton’s offer to give up her seat. “We can see from the width of file that there was a lot of meetings that took place. Cllr Norton has come up with good suggestion”.
Also voicing her opposition was Flynn’s party colleague, Cllr Mary Howard (FG) who said, “You brought this up five years ago before the local elections too. Leonard Cleary was very clear that legislation didn’t allow for another sub-committee”. Clarification was later provided by Council officials that the legislation does indeed allow for its creation.
Cllr Howard said she visited Ennis Garda Station on Monday evening, “I spoke with them about this, they don’t need another talking shop which is what this is. They’ve had huge problems with resources”.
She later told the meeting that an in-camera discussion (one which precludes the attendance of the media) needs to happen with the Ennis MD HSE and persons operating the Clare Rd Hostel, “that is the people causing the problems in the town of Ennis, we need to talk about how great our population are at giving their money which is a big problem because they are drunk at 12pm”.
Senior executive officer, Leonore O’Neill suggested that a briefing be organised with Superintendent Ryan and the elected members to discuss the ideas. This was backed by Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) who admitted he was reluctant to go on another sub-committee but that he was keen to improve matters in the town.
Use of the word “optics” was disappointing, Cllr O’Callaghan felt. He referenced the ‘genuine concern’ of residents in Cloughleigh for their safety and believed the population of Ennis warranted such a sub-committee.
How the debate moved away from tackling crime to pot-shots annoyed Cllr Flynn, he remarked, “Cllr Howard who called it a talking shop also attended the meetings from 2009-2014, it prompted a review in the Department and found 70% that JPCs added value to communities, 83% said meetings were positive, 71% said JPC got progressive work done”. Issues relating to headshops in Ennis from 2007 to 2009 were among items dealt with, he recalled.
Addressing the meeting remotely, Cllr Norton said as a sitting member of the JPC that she felt “undermined” with the call to set up a sub-committee. The Barefield woman added, “I feel as a councillor I do a very good job and represent the people of the MD but also the county as a county councillor. I feel very strong about this, I don’t want to be undermined as a councillor, I know other representatives and colleagues do their job and I feel this is a bit of an insult to try undermine us as councillors doing our job on the JPC by trying to bring another forum, I’m very disappointed with Cllr Flynn”.
A bemused Flynn asked, “Why does Cllr Norton need to be undermined or disappointed”. Cllr O’Callaghan added that none of the requests were “to undermine anybody, it is about joined-up thinking to find solutions. It is a problem, there is no point putting our head in the sand”.
Mayor of the Ennis MD, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) believed it was “a worrying time for Ennis. There are cars damaged at train station, people attacked on the street, drugs openly sold in Cloughleigh and throughout the town”.
Director of Service, Carmel Kirby acknowledged it was “a really important topic”. She stated, “What needs to happen here is there needs to be a discussion, there is provision in guidelines for sub-committees, it is more for particular types of issues, I can advise councillors that this option may be put forward to Chief Superintendent and discuss the option, this is a formal structure where collaboration takes place. It makes sense to me for anything in Ennis to be dealt with in this structure, I don’t think any of ye are trying to say nobody is doing their job on committees. There is no harm in asking again, that is my advice, there needs to be further deliberation between yourselves, ourselves and Gardaí on matters in the town”.
Concluding the discussion, Cllr Flynn said, “I am disappointed with some of the comments made during the debate. Crime and anti-social behaviour is an emotive and frightening thing. Taking the Director’s recommendation, I will put this back up for the October meeting if we could have briefing with Chief Superintendent prior to this and have discussion with him, a decision needs to be made. I will defer to October until we’ve had a discussion in-camera”.