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Tuesday, 22nd June 2021

Council’s €1.3m Fleadh debt sparks mother of all rows

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The huge crowds in Drogheda for the Fleadhs in 2018 and 2019 are a distant memory now but the Council still has a debt of €1.3m.

The last echoes of the Fleadh Cheoil has long since faded from the streets of Drogheda and the craic agus ceoil are but a distant memory but the row over who should pick up the €1.3m bill is only now coming to a head.

At Yesterday’s meeting of Louth County Council (LCC), CEO Joan Martin proposed that the debt be written off over the next 15 years at a cost of €100,000 a year but the Councillors present at the meeting didn’t agree and her proposal was rejected by 14 votes to 9.

The most vociferous opponent of the idea was  Drogheda Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne who was the only Drogheda based Councillor to oppose the CEO’s suggestion.

She said that the original agreement was that LCC would underwrite a cash flow facility of between €250,000 and €300,000 to the Fleadh organisers, not a loan of €1.3m.

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“There’s a big difference between €300,000 and €1.3 million” she said to Drogheda Life after the meeting.

“But it was being described by some Councillors as a small price to pay for the two years of the Fleadh and the benefits it brought to the town but that benefit was only felt by a small number of publicans and restauranteurs” she said, adding that the money "could be better spent on roads or house adaptations or roadworks or a million other things.”

“A million Euro is not small money to someone whose house is damp and the windows won’t close” she said.

“Joan Martin should go and explore other options” she said. “The Council should enter into negotiations with Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann who I believe are a wealthy organisation.”   

Some Councillors from the North of the County wanted the full debt to come from the Drogheda Municipal District budget but this idea got short shrift.

Labour Councillor Fiachra MacRaghnaill, who voted for the proposal, expressed his dismay by calls from Dundalk councillors that the debt be transferred to the Drogheda municipal district books.

He described this as “an exercise in cynicism” which, he claims, shows either wilful ignorance of the job to which these councillors were elected to do or an attempt to divide the County.

“To hear Drogheda councillors balk at costs retrospectively, suggesting they would not have supported the Fleadh bid despite being fully informed of costs and the timeline of provisions for absorbing them, smacks of populism and is quite frankly, amazing to me.”

“The Fleadh has been one of the most successful experiences for the citizens of Drogheda and the counties of Louth and Meath with tourism and hospitality sectors across the County benefitting greatly.

“The Fleadh is one of the world’s largest cultural events, Drogheda’s success as hosts showcased the town and its surrounding areas on a national and international stage. 

“It provided a resilience to the full effects of the Pandemic to local hospitality many of whom are emerging from lockdown with the infrastructure and expertise to cater for groups outside in what is now one of the best spots in Ireland for outdoor entertainment.”

MacRaghnaill continued, “This debt is on the books and it is our duty as elected representatives to deal with it, not to rewrite history, attempt to link it to different budgets, or to put penalties on services for Drogheda from an event which benefited all of Louth, Meath and the cultural richness of Ireland as a whole.

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