10 January 2002 Edition

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Waste charge row may force Sligo Corporation's collapse


A fresh political row over waste charges and the Mayoralty on Sligo Corporation could now force the fall of the local authority.

Opposition to a £200 increase in refuse charges in Sligo Town, a hike proposed by the County Manager, Hubert Kearns, was voiced in early December by all political parties on Sligo Corporation. When the county's book of estimates was consequently rejected at a council meeting on St. Stephen's Day, the council was suspended, pending a decision by Minister for the Environment Noel Dempsey, who is empowered either to abolish or choose to allow the council some more time to come to a decision. So far, however, that decision has not been forthcoming.

When Kearns then suggested that privatising waste collection in the town might be a way around the debacle, members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, according to Sinn Féin councillor and former Sligo Mayor Seán MacManus, began to negotiate a deal which would also decide who was going to become the next mayor of the town.

Sinn Féin says it is implacably against privatisation, which it says will take away the power of the council to curb price hikes in the future and will also mean the end of the waiver system currently in operation. "The system allows free waste collection for elderly people living on their own and substantially decreased costs for households on low incomes or in receipt of social walfare. Privatisation will end all this and will give us no guarantee against future price hikes," MacManus told An Phoblacht.

While Fine Gael is said to have some internal difficulties as regards the prospect of privatisation - with one of its three members opposed to the move - it now seems that another row has emerged, between Fiann Fáil and Fine Gael, over which party will hold the Mayoralty this year.

It is reported that, in return for their support of Fianna Fáil measures aimed at resolving the impasse, Fine Gael has demanded the Mayoral chain next year and the post of Deputy Mayor the following year, which will be the last of the current council's term of office.

But with one of its members insisting that it was his turn to be Mayor next year, it appears that Fianna Fáil may now force the collapse of the entire local authority. Under legislative powers given to the Minister for the Environment, Noel Dempsey may decide to abolish the council and replace it with a town commissioner responsible for managing the district. According to reports, Dempsey has given an ultimatum to his Fianna Fáil colleagues in Sligo to reach an agreement by the weekend or face the corporation's dissolution.

"This is a farcical situation," McManus said yesterday. "While there is no semblance of concern for the people of Sligo in this petty squabble between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, it seems that their efforts to wrest political power from each other may now result in the collapse of local democracy in Sligo. What we need is an agreed subvention from central government to pay for waste charges and allow Sligo Corporation get on with the business of administering democracy."

An Phoblacht
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