*Photograph: John O’Neill
INSURANCE costs have been cited by Clare County Council for stopping the Ennis Christmas train and Abbey Street Christmas market from proceeding this year.
Details on the full programme of events for Christmas in Ennis are due to be published in both Clare newspapers over the coming weeks with the switching on of the festive lights confirmed for Thursday November 23rd, a day earlier than last year to avoid a clash with Black Friday.
Potential replacements to the Christmas Market including an ice rink were examined by staff in the Ennis Municipal District but “insurance was a deterrent”, administrative officer Niamh O’Connor admitted. She said planning for the festivities began in June when EventReady who operated the Christmas Market confirmed they had decided to take a break.
Costs associated with the Christmas lights in Ennis is €70,000 and €5,000 on the lights according to senior executive engineer, Paddy Tiernan. Over €100,000 has been spent on Christmas in Ennis by the Council “every year” according to senior officials.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting of the Ennis MD, Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF) remarked, “to me it is like someone has cancelled Christmas because it is a scaled back event of what we are doing”. He acknowledged that rising costs may have influenced the decision but felt it would impact on the potential to enhance the area during the festive season. “I have heard figures that to run the event properly is €20,000 to €30,000 which is not a big figure. To me we’ve turned the lights off on the Christmas tree too early”.
Director of Economic Development, Carmel Kirby offered reassurances that “Ennis is open for Christmas and there is a lot of activity happening in the town, it will be a fun place and it will be a spectacle”. She said the operator of the Christmas Market “indicated it was becoming tired albeit that people have indicated they will miss it”. She said it was “extremely costly” to run a festive programme in the town.
A previous motion by Cllr Ann Norton (IND) to set up a Christmas market in Ennis was referenced by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG). “A lot of people are concerned Abbey Street is not being used for the Christmas market,” he said.
Ennis has “done exceptionally well in recent years in celebrating Christmas, that is down to the incredible work of the executive team,” maintained Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF). “We have to be realistic, insurance is a key problem as to the reason why these events couldn’t happen, the local authority cannot dictate that insurance be issued and at what price, I know this pertains to the market but maybe more so to the train which I was disappointed to hear is not happening for the young ones”.
According to Cllr Mary Howard (FG), “Christmas is all about the smallies, we all expressed disappointment that for insurance reasons we couldn’t have the train or even the market. We have to be prudent, it is public money we are spending and we need to justify it and justifying insurance costs”. She said traders didn’t do as well as they would have liked in the Christmas Market.
Rising insurance costs have been experienced by groups organising community events such as the regatta in Clarecastle, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) noted. “The train is a loss and stuff like that but we have to go on, it is public money and we have to be prudent with how we spend it”.
Cllr Norton added, “Christmas is one of the most magical times of the year and one of the times of the year that I love the most”. She said, “it’s the most amazing time for us to showcase our town, it is the capital town of Ennis, we will always be disappointed when we’re losing things”.
Mayor of the Ennis MD, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) was confident, “I have no doubt that it will be a great Christmas in Ennis”.
More focus will be needed on next year’s programme to make up for the disappointment, Cllr O’Callaghan felt. “It’s not about what we’re spending, my ESB bill goes up at Christmas like everyone else but am I going to turn off the lights, no I’m not. My understanding is the IPB will cover insurance, it is about experience, what do I say at Chrismtas I’m not providing soup this year”.
In response, Cllr Colleran Molloy remarked, “What has been the budget spent on Xmas over the years. Cllr O’Callaghan is suggesting we’re not spending enough”. She added, “it would be very unfortunate if the message came out that we are cutting back and being miserly about Christmas”. Cllr O’Callaghan replied, “We don’t have a train or carousel this year. It is like a short trousers we have to deal with it”.
On costs, Cllr Flynn said he was “shocked” that €15,000 was spent on the turning on of the lights last year. “I can’t recall discussing spending that level of money on what was done last year. How we spend it is the issue, it should be focused on families and encourage people to Ennis for a family event”.
“Christmas will be brilliant in Ennis this year. I would ask the public to come into Ennis and there will be a fantastic atmosphere. I can’t answer the question on costs but well over €100,000 has been spent on Christmas in Ennis every year, come in and support the local businesses,” Kirby concluded.