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Councillors clash over Westport’s Christmas lights

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NO 2019 BUDGET Independent councillor, John O'Malley.

Anton McNulty

A WEST Mayo councillor says he would prefer to spend any extra funding he gets on hedge cutting rather than Christmas lights in Westport.
Kilmeena-based councillor John O’Malley made the comment at Friday’s monthly meeting of the Westport-Belmullet Municipal District, where he came under fire for refusing to commit money to Westport’s seasonal lighting.
Cathaoirleach of the municipal district, Cllr Christy Hyland claimed that there would be no Christmas lights in the town had he and fellow Westport councillor Brendan Mulroy not allocated some of their GMA money towards them.
“We will have Christmas lights. I have allocated funding for Christmas lights every year. I wish everyone allocated [money],” Cllr Hyland told the meeting. He added: “The funding is there. We need lights for the town this Christmas, and I am delighted that you [Cllr Mulroy] and I provided the funding for Christmas lights.”
The two other councillors in the Westport area, Cllr Peter Flynn and Cllr O’Malley, took issue with Cllr Hyland’s remarks, saying that as newly elected councillors, they did not have a budget for allocating funds for Christmas lights this year.
Cllr Mulroy countered that they could commit money from their 2020 allocation for this year’s lights, as this had happened in 2014 after the local elections and the abolition of the town council. However, both of the new councillors felt that they could not do this. Cllr O’Malley added that he did not see the lights as a priority.
“You might need money for lighting, I need more for hedging. To me that is more important,” he said. Earlier in the meeting he claimed the situation was so bad in parts of Kilmeena that cars were ending up in the ditch and he feared someone will be killed.
When Cllr Hyland called on Cllr O’Malley to commit funding for lights, Cllr Paul McNamara interrupted saying there were other towns in the district that may need Christmas lights too.
“Chairman, you asked everyone to commit [funding for] lights for Westport – what if Newport gets onto Cllr O’Malley and Mulranny gets onto me? Santa has to come to Achill, Belmullet, Ballycroy and Kilmeena, he doesn’t just arrive in Westport,” he said.
Cllr O’Malley confirmed that he already had to refuse money for Newport because he doesn’t have a budget.
“I am not going to put anything into Westport if I can’t get money for Newport. They came to me already, and I had to refuse them. If I am committing money it will be for clipping the hedges and keeping the roads safe.”
Meanwhile, Cllr Hyland called on people in the municipal district to shop local this Christmas instead of shopping online.
“I want to encourage people to come and shop in Westport this Christmas because we have the finest of shops. There are serious challenges there with online shopping. I say this to the people who come into town looking for businesses to sponsor them or supply prizes when fundraising for sports clubs or organisations: Amazon won’t be responding with a spot prize. Be it in Achill or Louisburgh or Westport or the whole of our district, please shop local,” he said.