Meeting of Cork County Council, 9th June 2014

These are my notes from the above meeting.  Although they reflect the content of the meeting to the best of my ability, they are subject to whatever inaccuracies may be due to my typing, hearing and interpretation …

1. Confirmation of Minutes
Minutes of Meeting of the Council held on 12th May 2014
Proposed and seconded.

2.  Votes of Sympathy
Votes of Sympathy (if any) to (i) the relatives of members or employees of the Council (ii) dignitaries of Church or State (iii) members of the old IRA and Cumann na mBan

3.  Disposal of properties
Section 183 of the Local Government Act, 2001:
(a) Disposal of land at Park Mews, Town Park Road, New Line, Charleville
(b) Disposal of 34 Church Road, Douglas West
(c) Disposal of 28 Ban na Greine, Carrigtwohill
(d) Amendment to the disposal of Lease of building at Glashaboy, Glanmire, by the inclusion of “5 years (by way of lease)” being the terms of the lease
(e) Amendment to Disposal of Land at Kilmurray Road, Carrigrohane, Ballincollig by the substitution of Kilumney Road in lieu of Kilmurray Road, being the location and the substitution of 0.374 ha in lieu of “Folio No. 4152F”, being the area of said property.
(f) Amendment to Disposal of Property at Ballybearna, Ballinhassig, by substitution of “Mr. John & Esther Corcoran” in lieu of “John Corcoran” being the persons to whom the property is to be disposed.

Disposal of properties has heretofore dealt with at Area Committee meetings.  Staff have an intimate knowledge of the properties in question at Area Committee level.
10 days before a Council meeting, notification of disposal of properties will come directly to each Member.
Queries were raised about properties in Glanmire and Church Road, Douglas.  Queries were answered by Senior Executive.

4.  Western Committee
(a) Allocation of Amenity Grants under the Amenity Grant Scheme 2014 for the Western Division.
(b) Allocation of Community Fund Scheme 2014 for the Western Division.

Copies of groups, project proposals and proposed grant amount to be allocated has been provided.  These were discussed in detail at Area Committee meetings.  Project proposals were proposed and seconded.

5.  Correspondence from Government Departments

Department of Health:
Letter dated 8th May 2014 in response to Council’s motion of 11th March 2014 in connection with the cessation of water fluoridation.

Cllr Christopher O’Sullivan (FF): The response from the Minister is very disappointing.  It is watered down and has missed the point of the motion entirely.  There is no acknowledgement of the motion in correspondence.  The Department continues to refer to a 12-year old review which had no input by any toxicologist.  Most of the people who made up this review were dentists.  The current review we understood was to be an international review.  Correspond back, find out what makeup of experts on the Health Research Board are.  It is disappointing that the  Department doesn’t refer to the main crux of the issue, i.e. individual choice.  A growing body of people do not want fluoridation of their water supply.

Cllr Michael Moynihan (FF):  We were aware of FACCT investigation when we raised the motion but still chose to put the motion to the Minister.  Yet the Minister’s response places so much stock on the FACCT survey.  At the time of our motion, there was also a great deal of talk about an international body examining the whole issue of fluoridation of water supply.  The Minister doesn’t refer to this international study at all.  Where is the international study at?  Basically it comes down to a matter of choice.  We want people to have the option.  The letter should be referred back to the Minister again.  Hopefully following a Cabinet reshuffle,  another Minister may take a different view.

Cllr Kieran McCarthy (SF): Cobh Town Council also had a motion opposing fluoridation of the water supply.  They also sent a letter off to the Minister.  Unlike CCC, they did not even get a response.   He also believes the letter should be sent back to the Minister.

Cllr Paul Hayes (SF):  Also agrees that we should send the letter back to the Minister.

The Mayor concluded that the general thrust of Members’ opinions was to revert back again to the Minister for an improved response to CCC’s motion.

Notices of Motion

7. Cllr Kieran McCarthy
“That Cork County Council supports the introduction of bye-laws or other measure which would ensure that circuses which use animals are prohibited from performing in any part of the local authority area in light of the well-documented evidence of suffering endured by animals involved and the serious animal welfare issues raised.”

Cllr McCarthy (SF): Animal abuse images generally relate to social media, puppy farms, etc.  But as humans, we need to stop established practices when something is obviously wrong.  The use of animals in circuses is wrong.  Keeping them locked up in cages for 96% of their lives is wrong.  Some argue that it is acceptable because these animals were born into captivity.  Yet the children of Afro-American slaves born into captivity were still captive and expected to live a life of slavery.  This was wrong.  Abuse does not cease to be abuse just because its victim is not human.  The ISPCA and other animal welfare organisations are totally opposed to the use of animals in circuses.  There are a number of non-animal circuses in Ireland offering good entertainment and we should be encouraging their use more.  I propose that only animal-free circuses should be welcome in County Cork.  Seven cities and counties around the country also support this.  This motion was passed several years ago but because of a legislative hitch it could not be enforced.  We need to ensure that this legislative hitch is ironed out.

Cllr Margaret Murphy O’Mahony (FF):  Asks that all animals be supported in this motion, not just wild animals.  It is obviously the threat of physical punishment that makes animals perform in this way.  She is also concerned about how animals are transported and allowed to live.  She thinks we should catch up with many other countries and pass this motion.

Cllr Sinead Sheppard (FG): Says she was approached by many people in relation to this.  Minister Coveney brought forward legislation last year relating to this.  FG doesn’t want to see businesses hindered but tradition doesn’t have to involve the use of wild animals.

Tim Lucey (Chief Executive, CCC): This motion is really the remit of the Department of Agriculture.  This Department is drawing up a Code of Practice in relation to the use of circus animals, their monitoring, etc.  He thinks this motion should be brought to the Environment SPC when it gets up and running.  The SPC can then examine whether there is a legislative barrier to CCC’s bringing bye-laws forward.  He also thinks the SPC should take the Minister’s new Code of Practice into account.

Mayor Alan Coleman: It is clear from the debate that members are in support of the motion.  The children of Cork are very fortunate to have the Fota Wildlife Park in which they can see wild animals in as natural a surrounding as possible.  The County Council will pass the motion and its implementation will be dealt by the Environment SPC.

Kevin Murphy (FG): Does not wish to support the FF proposal to stop all animals taking part in circuses.  Many animals in circuses are domestic animals.  He does not want to be a kill-joy.

8.  Cllr Melissa Mullane
“That Cork County Council supports the maximum reduction of 15% in LPT as allowed under legislation.”

Cllr Mullane (SF): Councillors have the power to increase or reduce LPT by 15%.  Homeowners have to know by September what their LPT is going to be.  This is a reprehensible tax.  The Minister stated that funds raised through the LPT would go into local government services in 2013.  He said they would be redistributed to local authorities and that at least 80% of tax raised within each local authority area would go back to that local authority.

But policy has changed and now the Minister says the establishment of Irish Water created significant challenges.  The government has broken its own law.  No money has been returned for provision for local services.  Instead the money went into Irish Water who are still in rented accommodation in a hotel in Mallow.  Most of the money went to pay €100million in consultancy fees.

Cork County has a significant number of incomplete housing estates, massive housing lists, boarded-up houses, road infrastructure in need of urgent attention.  The LPT tax was supposed to be to address these problems.  SF wants this tax abolished and consigned to history.  Asks that Council would support the maximum reduction possible in the tax today.

Cllr Donnacha O’Laoghaire (SF):  The argument in favour of the LPT was that it would provide good quality funding for local services.  SF was concerned at the time.  The tax takes no account of ability to pay and goes back to central government.  These concerns have been realised.  LPT tax paid so far has gone to Irish Water and to paying bank debt.  There has been no improvement in local services.  SF wants to abolish LPT entirely.

Cllr Patrick Murphy (FF): Agrees with the thrust of the motion.  It is up to us to reduce the burden on householders in Cork.  The LPT was advertised as improving local services.  €32 million was collected through LPT in Cork County last year.  €3 or €4 million at best got back.

Cllr Gerard Murphy (FG): Every member would be very pleased if CCC could pass on a reduction of 15% in LPT.  Over the last number of years, CCC has had tight budgetary situations.  FG has been shaping CCC budgets since 1992.  They have handed over a reasonably good financial situation to Mr. Lucey.  They have always set aside money for grants in budget.  Grants such as Amenity Grants, Disability Grants, Housing Grants.  They have also set aside money for the Economic Development Fund to help the establishment of new business.  They would love to be able to implement SF’s proposal.  SF is credible enough in this issue because they have proposed to introduce many different taxes at national level.  Consequently a LPT at local level would not be necessary.  FG will support any set of estimates that do not cause a reduction in grants, etc. and that maintains the Economic Development Fund.  If the manager can see a way of doing all these things – and Cllr Murphy believes it is impossible – then reduce the LPT.    Otherwise it is not reckless to reduce it without the full facts.

Cllr John Paul O’Shea (Ind):  Supports the general thrust of the motion.  It is disappointing that the money collected through LPT in County Cork has not been returned to County Cork.  It has had a very bad effect on local services.

Cllr Rachel McCarthy (SF):  The LPT is anything but local.  Thanks FG for being so up to date with SF policy.  It is reckless to have a tax that does not take people’s ability to pay into account.

Cllr Tim Collins (Ind):  When he was canvassing, he met an elderly person living on her own.  She was very worried about all the charges being imposed. Her only company was the phone and she now has to pay for that as well.  Time we eased the burden on ordinary people.

Cllr Seamus McGrath (FF):  Agrees that the LPT was misleading.  FF is talking about reducing it by 15% over a reasonable timeframe.  Public consultation on issue during month of July is necessary to informing our debate.

Cllr Kieran MCCarthy:  What is reckless is establishing a quango such as Irish Water which involves huge taxpayer expense.

Cllr Claire Cullinane:  She agrees entirely that the government broke its own law by not delivering the LPT back to the local authorities.  In doing so, the government took money from people who couldn’t afford it to pay off odious debts and to establish Irish Water.  This move has taken away the trust of Irish people.  It is our responsibility to replace that trust for the Irish people.

Cllr Marcia D’Alton:  In fairness to the comments made by Cllr Murphy in relation to local grants, my background is Passage West Town Council where the value and essential nature of grants from Cork County Council is all too evident.  So I want to thank Cork County Council for having ensured that, even in difficult times, these grants were continued.  However, because the LPT was not returned to local authorities as promised, it did not contribute to the funding of these grants.  The LPT was money taken from the people which was, rather than being returned to local authorities as promised, used to set up Irish Water which will in turn take further money from the people.  When I was canvassing, the message I was getting repeatedly was that people did not mind paying for services delivered and they did not mind paying reasonably for water.  But what they did mind very much was paying twice.  Either they pay for services or they pay LPT but they don’t pay both.  Services which used to be delivered by local authorities are increasingly being privatised.  So people see the LPT as a tax on the homes that they have spent their lives working to afford.  They like CCC to deliver their services.  They trust CCC.  Let us re-engage that trust by lowering the LPT and letting that lowering be a message to the Minister that what he has done by using what was to be a fund for local authorities to setting up Irish Water to be totally unacceptable.

FG – Funding of CCC is a huge issue.  The money we have to play with is miniscule.  He considers the way property tax is banded property tax to be a wealth tax in effect.

Cllr Dan Joe Fitzgerald (FF):  It is difficult to put budgets together.  The money taken in LPT gave CCC no benefit.  We need to work in that direction.

Cllr Tim Lombard (FG):  Nobody in this Chamber today will have any issue with reducing property tax by 15%.  But what will be the reduction in services? Community grants, disability grants, etc. may all be affected.  The real issue is that we will not know how much we can reduce it by until we know what we will get from national funding.   To reduce LPT may mean more people waiting for longer to have their roads fixed.  People really want services.  People deserve more than just cutting LPT without knowing what services we are commensurately reducing.

Paul Hayes (SF):  What FG is saying would be true if CCC had got money from the LPT but it didn’t.  It is false economy to say LPT cannot be reduced.  Businesses are still closing every day.  LPT is taking money out people’s pockets.  When people don’t have money to spend locally, businesses suffer and close.  Then CCC loses rates from the businesses that are closing.  We need to send out the message of relief to people today that the LPT is being lowered.

FF from Clon: We got no benefit from LPT last year so to reduce it will not affect services.  There is a public consultation on LPT coming in July, but the biggest public consultation we have had yet is the results of the local elections.

Tim Lucey (Chief Executive, CCC):  The motion didn’t seek a report, hence he has no report prepared.  He saw this as a motion which would generate debate.  We are awaiting the final LPT Regulations so it is premature to produce a report.  The Regulations will set out the consultative process that will come in mid-July which will provide for public submissions, etc.  CCC will need to take decision on the level of LPT before the end of September.  The Chief Executive must then issue a report to CCC as to whether there will be a change in LPT up or down.  There is a long road to go on this and serious questions must be asked before any decision is made.

It is debatable whether local government benefited or not from LPT.  Could local government have survived without the introduction of LPT?  It is debatable.  We need estimates of what the potential yield from LPT might be for 2015.  80% of what is collected in LPT needs to come back to local authorities.  Neither do we know how what we might get back from LPT might impact on other grants we get from central government.  If the motion is passed, it doesn’t have any bearing on whether he will implement it or not.

Cllr Susan McCarthy (FG):  Fears Cllr Murphy may have been misunderstood.  Fine Gael agrees that the rate of LPT should be lowered as much as possible.  It just wants to be very careful that lowering doesn’t result in a reduction of services.

The Mayor concluded that debate in the Chamber proved the motion to have won.

9. Votes of Congratulations

10.  Any other business
Cllr Des O’Grady (SF) had some queries about the final make-up of committees which seemed incomplete after Friday’s AGM.