Tuesday 20 March 2018

Christmas lights unplugged over €40,000 bill row

Greg Harkin

THE country's most debt-ridden council has pulled the plug on Christmas lights because of an ongoing 'bullying' row.

Sligo town's Chamber of Commerce has cancelled Christmas lights because it still hasn't been reimbursed €40,000 for last year's display.

And the borough council hasn't met since July.

Dozens of community and arts groups haven't been given funding because only a full council meeting can authorise payments.

And the festive lights are the latest victim of the debacle.

Staff walked out of the March monthly meeting amid claims that they were being bullied by independent councillor Declan Bree, a claim strenuously denied.

The council spent more than €50,000 hiring HR consultant Declan Naughton to monitor meetings and Mr Bree's alleged behaviour.

Meetings had resumed in June but council officials have not called any meetings since July. A Chamber of Commerce spokesman said: "The payment for last year's lights has not been ratified and we do not have the €40,000 to fund this year's lights."

"It's not just the lights that have gone out on Christmas," Councillor David Cawley told the Irish Independent.


"Local arts groups, theatres and even Sligo Live [festival] haven't had their funding from the borough because we haven't been allowed to have a meeting to sign it off."

He said a meeting in July, led by him with council staff, had agreed that councillors would put forward the names of two mediators to resolve the dispute. Council officials, he said, agreed to do the same.

"We met on Monday and the council has yet to come up with two names," he said.

Sligo County and Borough Councils, which are managed by the same team, also have debts of more than €80m, a running deficit of €14m and are facing a potential €10m bill from losing a land dispute with the owners of Lissadell House.

Meanwhile traders say they will try their best go to put extra lights in their shops.

Micheal Feehily, who runs a florists in the town, said: "We've put up an extra special display this year because we knew there wouldn't be any street lights. Having no lights in a town at Christmas makes us look terrible."

In a statement, acting county manager Dorothy Clarke, whose predecessor Hubert Kearns retired last month with a €270,000 lump sum and an annual pension of €68,000, insisted the bullying issue had not been resolved.

"We wish it to be resolved as soon as possible," she said.

Mr Bree, who has always denied the bullying allegations, told the Irish Independent: "Suggestions that the council chamber is an unsafe place to work in can only be described as ludicrous."

Irish Independent

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