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Tuesday, 6th November 2018

Spooked councillors discuss housing problems in Drogheda

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The Drogheda Councillors in their fancy costumes.

My wife says I’m hard of hearing, well actually she says I’m a deaf git, but on a selective basis. In other words I hear what I want to hear and filter out the rest.

I deny this of course but it could be one of the reasons why I find it so difficult to cover the Borough District of Drogheda meetings. I maintain that the meeting room at Barlow House is not fit for purpose.

It’s actually two rooms with a divider which is drawn back when meetings are in progress– the business end of the room is where the councillors and officials sit and the other half is for the media and the public.

The problem is that the councillors must face away from the public and the press when they address their observations on the vicissitudes of life in Drogheda to the chair. This, combined with the fact that some of the members are prone to mumbling, makes recording the machinations of local government in this Borough difficult.

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It’s something to do with acoustics I’m told. Or my wife could be right and I am actually a deaf git.

Anyway, it seemed to me that the councillors were a bit spooked last night. Perhaps it was shell shock from all the Halloween fireworks or maybe they had eaten too many sweets from their Trick and Treat collections. Some of them looked pale as if they had seen one ghost too many.

It’s a good job the Chief Executive wasn’t there to see her bold boys and girl in such giddy form. She’d surely have put the frighteners on them.

The underlying problem with local government is of course that the councillors have almost no power and the councils are being starved of funding so they can do nothing anyway.

One of the major issues haunting the country today is of course the housing crisis and Drogheda is certainly badly affected. Councillor Paul Bell asked Director of Services for Housing Paddy Donnelly how many houses were vacant in Drogheda and how many could be brought up to social housing level.

Pio Smith interjected that even if two or three full estates were to become vacant tomorrow none of the housed would be up to the required standard.

Donnelly’s response was the by now familiar mantra that, even though there are “a number” of properties in need of refurbishment the budget is not there at the moment and it seemed likely that would be the case for some time.

Asked about funds for house repairs and the difficulties experienced by tenants in dealing with the customer services section of the council, Mr. Donnelly conceded that they needed to improve the service.

He suggested that in some cases customer services personnel could talk tenants through fixing minor problems with their central heating systems over the phone.

“A leak can lead to further damage to a home so we have to make a judgement call in each case” he said, adding that it is not possible to please everyone.

Another issue that was raised under the general topic of housing was the rough sleepers count that is carried out by the Council every year and which for the past two years has found nobody sleeping rough. Not one.

This touched a nerve with SF Councillor Joanna Byrne who has been very vocal on the subject for some time and had previously offered to escort Council officials to people who were sleeping rough within walking distance of the Council offices.

“Drogheda Homeless Aid, Drogheda Cares for The Homeless and The Red Door, among others, are the NGO's on the ground on a daily basis, these are the people the Local Authority need to take their lead from on this issue” she said. 

“It won’t serve any purpose for another inaccurate count of zero to be returned” she said and called on the Local Authority to liaise with Councillors in each area in advance of all rough sleeper counts so that they can be aware of the hotspots known to the members and include them on their route. 

Donnelly said: "Louth County Council wants to be in a position to offer those sleeping on the streets the particular help that they need at that time” and they “would work with all organisations to ensure an accurate count is returned and that help is given."

This article was written by Andy Spearman

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