Council Affairs: SPCs, where Council motions go to die

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

WE MIGHT just pause for a moment to pay our final respects to a motion from Fine Gael councillor Sarah Kiely that has now left us for the great big Council meeting in the sky.

God rest this well-intentioned long-shot, we barely knew ye.

Sadly, Cllr Kiely’s proposal for a Business Interruption Scheme took its final breath in the Dooradoyle chambers of County Hall last week, in the loving embrace of members of the Economic Development meeting.

Tears were shed, kind words were spoken, and the motion was fondly remembered by local representatives as a fairly decent submission that never really got to reach its full potential.

May it now rest in peace and live on in Limerick shopkeepers’ hearts for the eternal duration of our woebegone O’Connell Street works. Life can be so cruel.

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The fledgling motion, which had a short and unfulfilled journey, ended up in what is considered to be the local authority’s very own scrap yard. A quick bolt to the head from the executive put it out of its misery and then buried, like many mooted ideas, never to be heard of again.

That is, at least, councillors’ perception of the work of Strategic Policy Committees (SPCs).

Kiely’s motion, read to the chamber before slipping off into the great unknown, called for the feasibility of a Business Interruption Scheme for the city centre traders/ retailers be progressed as a way of compensation when building works impact on revenue.

The City East representative told members that her motion, which was first brought to the Metropolitan District last December, had been spurred by the never-ending works in the city centre. An epic of biblical proportions at this stage.

The Business Interruption Scheme, she suggested, could be a means of compensation for when building works impact on the revenue of local businesses.

“If works are taking place outside a particular premises, they are of course affected and as such should, in my opinion, receive compensation. If that is in the form of a rate reduction or another mechanism, I think it would help,” Cllr Kiely told the council executive.

“Obviously the business affected would be able to prove this and as such be eligible for the proposed compensation. The council executive may be able to assist with the application in the form of a clinic-style process. Applicants could meet with personnel from Economic Development to see how to proceed with the application once parameters are set.”

Councillors were supportive of Cllr Kiely’s motion and rallied around to try and breathe life into its withering premise.

Cllr Liam Galvin (FG) took the view that some businesses might as well be closed altogether for the trade they lose during some works. He pointed out that this proposal was something within their gift to give and was all for it being allowed spread its wings and fly.

“Why not adopt the policy and do something meaningful?” he asked.

Good question indeed.

Brian Thompson, a representative on the committee from the voluntary/community sector, had another query for the council management.

“If the SPC is not effective, what are we doing here?

“It’s an absolute waste of time if it is just a talking shop. What are we doing here?”

What are ye doing, indeed?

My old segotia Cllr Stephen Keary (FG) was of the opinion that this motion should apply to every town in County Limerick. However, he feared the Business Interruption Scheme proposal would not be long for this world.

“This will be dead and forgotten about,” he warned.

“We really are not doing our business right. This meeting should have been held on March 5 or 10 to give the executive a chance. It’s a disaster.

“I have never seen a proper outcome from these meetings. It will go into limbo again.”

It can be like Night of the Living Dead out in County Hall at times, for sure. Mouths gaping and council members aimlessly floundering about the place as they lose the will to live.

There just don’t be much grey matter to be chomping down on at times, though!

A chirpy little birdie tells me that it is the long-winded and unimaginative replies councillors often get from the executive on their motions that really tips them over the edge.

In my own experience, it is almost impossible not to space out as these bland bureaucratic memos are regurgitated from the top table.

It is that Twilight Zone moment between the end of one motion’s short-lived existence and the next readying itself for the chopping block.

‘Engagement, ba-da-ba-da, sequential steps, ba-da-ba-da, official process, ba-da-ba-da, outcome of report, ba-da-ba-da!’

Sorry what?

Limerick City and County Council’s Director of Economic Development Vincent Murray wasted no time in squeezing the bejaysus out of Cllr Kiely’s proposal, informing her that there is no budget in place to implement such a scheme at present.

Bang! Bang! You’re dead! Pew pew pew.

Like some cool and calm assassin, the motion was put down quickly and cleanly, and was now about to go swimming with the fishies.

“This isn’t a good road to go down. We don’t have the budget for this type of compensation and it could have huge implications at national level. It would need to be looked at.”

Mr Murray said there was no problem setting up a working group to look at the proposal, but warned it would have huge financial implications.

And with that, another motion was bagged with Ted Bundy-like efficiency and soon to be nothing more than a faded memory.

Or was it?

“Bring it on, let’s be brave,” Cllr Sarah Kiely replied.

Councillors were taking no highfalutin guff from council management on this one.

“I am at a loss,” she confessed to the executive.

“You are preaching to the choir. But any time we make a simple proposal, we are told no. Motions come here to die. The moment a motion is referred to an SPC – it is going nowhere. This has to stop, it is a fundamental flaw.”

Gone but not forgotten, Cllr Kiely’s proposed Business Interruption Scheme will live on in our hearts.

Alas, “so wise so young, they say, do never live long.”