The promotional material for the sequel to Jaws stated: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…” as the Jaws theme music played under the voiceover. Sequels have a habit of never being as good as the original because many of the people involved are more interested in prolonging the cash flow rather than developing creativity.
The latest sequel in the ongoing refuse row in Mayo is an exception. Mayo County Council and their associated local authorities in the Town Councils in Castlebar, Ballina and Westport have approved special leave for the 33 staff employed as refuse collectors.
This special leave will last from January 8 to February 8. It will not affect their annual leave entitlements. The refuse collectors – through a special deal agreed by the trade union, SIPTU and Council management – earn about €1,000 per person per week. Some earn more, others earn less. This latest twist in the refuse row will cost the local authorities about €165,000 – taxpayers’ money. The refuse collectors do not want the leave.
Someone, somewhere in the bowels of local authorities in this county, had to think this up and to approve it. In the best traditions of local authorities, a team probably devised it. It means that a problem shared is a problem halved. It also spreads the blame should there be any sign of anything about to hit any fan!
THE PRIVATISATION TRAVESTY
For too long, too many people have been making decisions that have neither ‘bun ná barr’ to them. The decisions of these people, who appear like little smiling Buddhas, affect most of us, yet it also seems that they do not have to take responsibility for these decisions.
The whole refuse collection issue in Mayo has been a travesty ever since there were plans to privatise it. Let no one from Mayo County Council say there were no plans to privatise the collection, of course there were. There is none now, because, through stealth, incompetence and sheer doggedness, what was once an asset has been stripped back to nothing by bad decisions, stubbornness and an audacity that borders on contempt for elected councillors, staff and the public.
CUSTOMER BASE FRITTERED AWAY
Where once stood a customer base of over 15,000, with equipment to service their refuse collection needs, there now stands a customer base of nil. They were whittled away by prevarication, procrastination and charade. If, as some Council officials claim, there is nothing to privatise, why did the Council seek expressions of interest in the ‘business’ at one stage? They did so because it had an asset to sell. Now, through sheer incompetence, it is left with nothing but a history of embarrassment in their dealings with this issue. This would not be tolerated in the private sector. It would never have been allowed to fester as long as it already has been. It takes some doing to fritter away a customer base of 15,000.
What was the point in Mayo County Council attending the National Implementation Body last month and agreeing to talks with a binding resolution when, at the same time, they were divesting the Council of its customer base and refuse collection assets?
It will be interesting to know if the Competition Authority will ever examine this aspect of their investigation into the refuse service in Mayo. They already have taken files from several of the county’s refuse collectors who were meeting together to ‘divide up’ the Council runs when the Council initially signalled its intention to withdraw from the collection service. The Competition Authority does not tolerate any form of cartel or price-fixing among supposedly competing operators. This is to protect the consumer.
THE ROLE OF THE GOVERNMENT
Does the whole blame for this mess lie at the feet of officials in Áras an Chontae in Castlebar? Me thinks not! The root of this obstinacy is rooted firmly in the hallowed halls of Leinster House. Its tentacles can be traced to the Department of the Environment and the corporate attitude of a political party masquerading as a republican ideal. The Teflon technocrats within Fianna Fáil know that there is more than one way to skin a cat. They have learned from the arrogance of their pet-hate, Maggie Thatcher, when she blooded herself in the race to privatisation. Privatisation has many coats. It also has many ghosts.
THE ‘GLIC’ MENTALITY
In this country, we are ‘glic’. We can get the one result by various means. It is like having the capacity to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they will enjoy the journey. That cuteness is rampant in politics in this country. It will poke its ugly head above the parapet more and more in the run-up to the General Election. It is up to us, the electorate, to know it for what it is and name it for what it is.
This Government has consistently divested the people of democracy, by handing powers to unelected council officials and removing them from elected councillors. Councillors, in turn, are sweetened by their monthly allowances under this monster known as Better Local Government.
Cllrs Michael Kilcoyne, Johnny Mee and Noel Campbell (with support from Cllr Blackie Gavin) served a Section 140 on Castlebar Town Council management to resume the refuse collection service. They required five out of the nine town councillors to support the motion. Their request for a special meeting was denied.
The only option now for the councillors is to seek a judicial review of the decision. That costs serious money and is another example of how democracy is being eroded. Minister Dick Roche stated that councillors seem nervous about exercising their full powers in local government - not in Castlebar, but why should the courts be the only option left for councillors?
It also raises the question of the opposition – where are they? Gone fishing for Jaws or perhaps they are on a bin man’s holiday!