Cllr Frances McAndrew (FF) told last week’s meeting of Ballina Town Council that the Ballina Salmon Festival could be in jeopardy due to Community Employment Scheme cuts announced in the recent budget.
Cllr McAndrew said the budget cuts will have a seriously detrimental effect not only on Ballina Salmon Festival, but also on the Ballina Arts Festival, the arts centre and many sports clubs and tidy towns projects throughout the region.
Cllr McAndrew stated, “Ballina Salmon Festival generates €2.5 million every year and is the highlight of the summer. FÁS has supported it for many years. Last year, we had 36 [CE workers] placed in various positions. If this funding is lost, it will have a devastating effect. In fact, we can forget about [the festival].”
The Fianna Fáil representative proposed sending a letter to Minister for Social Protection Joan Bruton highlighting the scheme’s importance to the area. Cllr Gerry Ginty (Ind) supported Cllr McAndrew’s proposal.
Cllr Mark Winters (FG) said that the Ballina Salmon Festival and the Ballina Arts Festival in particular were very important to Ballina, and he was confident that they would not be endangered. He said he was also very much aware of the enormous contribution which the CE scheme has made to Ballina.
Responding to Minister Burton’s confirmation that her department will be willing to fund ‘viable’ Community Enterprise schemes, the Fine Gael representative said that anybody who witnesses the fantastic work that is undertaken as part of the Ballina Salmon Festival would not doubt its viability.
“I have been involved with the Ballina Salmon Festival for 12 years,” Cllr Winters said, “and I know very well the contribution which it makes. Minister Burton has said that no viable Community Enterprise Scheme will be lost. We know these are viable.”
Independent councillor Mary Kelly said that the schemes gave people a sense of purpose and a sense of value. However, she was not optimistic about their future: “[Minister Burton’s] comment that ‘viable’ schemes will not be affected – I have grave concerns about that. I can tell you that there will be a lot of groups who will argue that their schemes are viable and important who will have their schemes cut.
“It would be a great shame if established events like the Ballina Salmon Festival and the Ballina Arts Festival were put in jeopardy by indiscriminate cuts.”