*Photograph: John Mangan
Community groups are finding it “virtually impossible” to secure insurance for new playgrounds.
An audit on playground ownership is to be conducted in Clare, the Chief Executive of Clare County Council stated at the September meeting of the local authority while they poured cold water on the idea of taking ownership for similar facilities across the county.
Citing an “inability” for new community operated playgrounds to obtain insurance and existing ones where cover has lapsed to secure a renewal, West Clare councillors Cillian Murphy (FF), Ian Lynch (IND) and Joe Garrihy (FG) called on the Council to take groups in this bracket under their own policy.
Director of Rural Development, Leonard Cleary flagged that the Council is not the owner or leaseholder of playgrounds and therefore “do not have an insurable interest in them”. Escalating insurance costs is a matter for the insurance market to resolve in line with Government policy, he stated.
Speaking at the adjourned September meeting, Cllr Murphy commented, “It is virtually impossible for community group to get new insurance for playgrounds”. He added, “It is grossly unfair that some communities can have a playground and others can’t. I refuse to believe it is beyond our remit to develop community organised playgrounds in the future”.
Development of playgrounds in Clare have “come at an enormous commitment and expense,” Cllr Garrihy highlighted. He believed the provision of amenities and facilities like this has to be two tier and said residents of parishes where facilities were not owned by the Council were at a disadvantage. “Playgrounds are the heartbeat of where people interact, it is where social capital comes from. Playgrounds are not just a place for children, it is a place for parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, cousins to meet”.
Positive collaboration with community groups was the genesis of the motion, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) felt. “We want our children to be happy and able to socialise in playgrounds safely. A lack of willingness to be creative is permeating in response”. Playgrounds form “an essential part of the community service,” Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) acknowledged.
A handful of Clare playgrounds are operating without insurance or management, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) revealed. “If there was a major claim in these playgrounds, I am sure the legal eagles would go after everyone that has an involvement and that includes Clare County Council”. Volunteers in community projects “are falling off and dwindling because of a fear of getting sued,” Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF) cautioned.
Health benefits of playgrounds must be remembered, Cllr Susan Crawford (GP) advised. “We have increased incidences of obesity and type 1 diabetes among children in this county, it is important that the Council take this on board. It is very important to note that a lot more happens in playgrounds than children playing”. Sixmilebridge representative, Cllr John Crowe (FG) called for playgrounds to be closed at night. “There are bigger children coming and causing damage,” he highlighted.
Citing that his immediate reaction was to empower local communities to deal with matters in their own area, Pat Dowling confirmed that an audit on the facilities would be done to see “what is going on around the county”. He added, “We do as an organisation have to step into the breach around issues of public health, mental health and well-being. I am happy to look at this in the context of how we might operate this model going forward but there will be a cost. All playgrounds don’t have to be owned and operated by the local authority”.