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Ennis taskforce prompts new argument among councillors in the town

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*Photograph: John Mangan

Ennis councillors have clashed again on the topic of the taskforce co-ordinating the town’s response to COVID-19.

Responsible for a string of measures in response to the global pandemic, the COVID-19 Ennis Mobility Group was established in March and led the introduction of temporary pedestrianisation in the town. Ennis councillors had to fight to ensure all elected representatives were included on the group, then Mayor Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) was automatically appointed to the taskforce while Cllr Mary Howard (FG) and Cllr Ann Norton (IND) secured spots as representatives for the Tidy Towns and disability groups.

Citing this example of work, Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG) requested that the objectives and terms of reference of the taskforce be issued to a newly formed ‘Retailers of Ennis’ group “so that they can see the reasons were because of COVID-19”. Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) supported this call and noted it was “a very sensitive issue. The last thing we want is negativity”.

Described by Cllr Nestor as “a legitimate group”, the Retailers of Ennis is an amalgamation of 63 shops from the town who seek to conduct business in a respectful and sensitive manner. The group have requested to have representation on the stakeholders group, one member stated, “We feel that weight of number should now give us a right to be involved in the stakeholders committee where we can advance our opinions, in temperate tones, and be treated with due respect which has been a rare commodity in our dealings with the Council so far”.

Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ennis Municipal District, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) said the retail group was feeling the effects of the pandemic “very harshly” and flagged that many of them were not members of Ennis Chamber. “I feel Ennis is in a very bad way. I realise it is happening all over the country but it is very serious,” Cllr Pat Daly (FF) outlined of the consequences of COVID-19 to business.

Director of Service, Carmel Kirby informed councillors that an agreement had been reached for the ‘Retailers of Ennis’ and ‘Better Ennis’ to be invited to separate meetings of the COVID-19 Mobility Group.

“Things have moved on since the last meeting, the retailers are willing to engage,” Cllr Flynn responded. He admitted that he was not keen for Better Ennis to be brought before the group due to their pro-pedestrianisation stance.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Cllr Colleran Molloy. “I don’t like the fact you are lumping together two groups that are completely separate in their objectives. It is not quite sitting right with me, we are handing over to decision making to a non-elected taskforce”.

Mayor of Ennis, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) told the Quin native she was agreeable to decisions being made by the group previously. She replied, “It is not sitting right with me. Things have changed. Back in March we were meeting via teleconference. I recall that the Mayor was chosen as our sitting representative, that was Johnny Flynn, things have changed dramatically, it was with a fight that we have all seven elected representatives sitting on it. It doesn’t sit right with me that we are relinquishing decision making to a non-elected group”.

In defence, Ms Kirby detailed that the taskforce had “worked extremely hard since March for the betterment of the town”. The membership of the group is being considered, she confirmed. “It is taking an inordinate amount of time to organise a face to face with these people,” Colleran Molloy replied.

All aspects of the community have been represented on the taskforce, Cllr Howard recalled. “I find the comments can be that we are anti-business, we are not anti-business. Some of these people have been a little bit aggressive with us. I don’t know when our next meeting is. I genuinely don’t know what the advantage is of holding a meeting with these groupings over the next few weeks because nothing will change until the town reopens in December,” she said.

Bringing the discussion to a halt, Mayor Murphy confirmed the retail group would be invited to present at the next taskforce meeting.

Páraic McMahon is Head of News & Sport with The Clare Echo. The Newmarket-on-Fergus native also writes for national papers including The Irish Examiner, The Irish Independent and The Irish Times along with doing work for RTÉ, Today FM, TheJournal.ie and The42.ie. A graduate of Mary Immaculate College, Páraic was previously employed by The Clare Herald and Clare FM. If you have a story, tip or some feedback for him then send an email to - paraic@clareecho.ie

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