*Photograph: Martin Connolly
CLARE COUNTY COUNCIL have to put up their hands and admit they made a mistake with the Market Building in Ennis, a former Mayor of Clare has said while it has emerged elected representatives were not consulted prior to the temporary closure of the building.
Described by Clare TD, Michael McNamara (IND) as “a shooting gallery” for drug users, the Market Building has closed in the past fortnight due to a rise in anti-social behaviour.
At this week’s meeting of the Ennis Municipal District, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) asked that “alternative uses other than parking” be examined for the Market Building and for the local authority to seek Departmental funding for the change of use.
Alternative uses have been researched and proposed over two years ago with a report completed, the designs from which were presented to councillors at a briefing in February 2022 for consideration.
Administrative officer, Niamh O’Connor confirmed that in 2021 the Ennis MD engaged the School of Architecture Intelligence Unit in the University of Limerick to research and propose alternative uses for the Ennis Market building. “They produced a report ‘Alternative solutions for a centrally located and adaptable space’ in 2021. The students proposed that the building use could change throughout the day, fitness & gym, food truck at lunchtime, children’s play area and theatre group. Another proposed design included a garden centre, indoor playground and café”.
Despite being briefed on the report behind closed doors a year ago, Cllr Daly suggested the students present their findings. “A lot of debate has and is taking place on this building, people are waiting to see what the Ennis MD can do to make it viable. In recent times, the Council had no choice to close it down, drink and drug parties were going on, now is the time for the Ennis MD to win back the public on this, use all the experience and expertise we have”.
According to Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF), “it has been the bane of us”. She recalled, “I remember getting elected in 2014, this was an Ennis Town Council decision, we were newly elected in 2014 and asking then senior executive officer Ger Dollard if we could review the decision and we were told we could not, we’re living with that. It truly galls me, it is like the County Council has to cow down to the lowest common denominator which is the drunkenness and anti-social behaviour which has caused this building to be closed which I think is a very sad outcome, we’ve all given into the lowest common denominator”.
One business person contacted Cllr Colleran Molloy to express her view that is was wrong to close the building because the Council can’t deal with anti-social behaviour. She said, “I still think this is wrong, we’ve caved in and I don’t think we should have”. The Quin native added, “I think you’re throwing a holy Mary pass on this one, I think this has been a mistake, we need to go back to the drawing board, we as a Council have made a wrong decision in closing this building for anti-social behaviour, I wasn’t briefed on this decision and I don’t know how it came about, I heard it through the media”.
Criticism of the Farmers Market was voiced by Cllr Mary Howard (FG). She said that in the final term of the Ennis Town Council, they engaged with the Farmers Market, “they wanted running water and cover from the elements, in the interim they went to Roslevan and never come back which I think it is very unfair”. Defending the €500k costs as part of the €1.75m redevelopment, she said, “a huge amount of the work is unseen, the building was the tiniest part of the cost”. She believed the building had “great potential” as a music venue.
“It is a white elephant, hopefully we won’t have another white elephant, it is a mistake and we need to learn from it,” stressed Cllr Tom O’Callaghan (FF). He said anti-social behaviour has “collapsed” since pedestrianisation measures ended.
Clarecastle representative, Cllr Paul Murphy (FG) admitted he was “unaware” of the closure before it happened. “Maybe we need to consider security of some sort to monitor it, having it closed on a permanent basis is not the way forward, we need to come up with something and something that works to deter the anti-social behaviour from that part of town”.
This building has been regularly discussed “and generally in a negative light,” Cllr Ann Norton (IND) observed. “It was something we were landed with, we had to approve the loan and that loan is still being paid back, at least if the car park is open there is some money generated but when it is closed obviously the money isn’t generated to pay back the loan, it is having to come out of other sources within Clare County Council. We talk about parking so often but at the end of the day this was a multi-purpose building, part of it was parking as a way of generating money. We cannot generate money if it is closed. Redevelop it or bite the bullet and put another storey on it to make it a multi-storey car park”.
Safety concerns will keep the building closed for the short-term future, O’Connor confirmed. She said, “we have sourced an operator to manage the building as a car park”.
Colleran Molloy then showed her background as a barrister when quizzing the meetings administrator as to why councillors were not consulted prior to the closure, “Why is it that we as elected representatives didn’t get some advance notice of a decision made by somebody to close the building? Who made the decision and felt it would not be appropriate to advise councillors”.
Mayor Daly responded, “It was a management decision that I didn’t know about”. Colleran Molloy replied, “As a rule we get the courtesy of a briefing by management” and O’Connor acknowledged, “That would be normal procedure, the decision was taken very quickly due to concerns for our employee welfare, a decision had to be made quite quickly. Ennis MD made the decision”.
On two occasions, she asked who specifically made the call and this information was not forthcoming from O’Connor. “It wasn’t the Chief Executive. Ennis MD is responsible for the building, opening and closing it. A decision was made by the Ennis MD”.
Colleran Molloy replied, “Why was it thought not a good idea to give notice” and O’Connor stated, “I agree with you and I apologise for that”.
Concluding the debate, Cllr O’Callaghan remarked, “it is not helpful to blame anyone”. He added, “There was a big concern for health and safety. I get why it had to close, if you have an empty box in the middle of the market you will have problems”.