Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Committee on Public Petitions
Business of Joint Committee
The first petition for consideration is Petition No. P00048/17 from Ms Anna McKenna who would like to see Drogheda, County Louth attain city status. Members have addressed some concerns about the issue at play and I want to give them a chance to intervene at this stage before we make a final determination on the petition. I invite Deputy Cassells to contribute.
We dealt with a similar petition once before and the matter has come before us again. I have had the pleasure to meet the group on a number of occasions. There are a number of things at issue, the first of which is the abolition of the old borough council in Drogheda. Drogheda is an historical town with a proud tradition and the removal of statutory powers from the borough council was abhorrent, as it was in the case of my town of Navan. The removal of borough council status resulted in the removal of the managerial structure, which meant that there were no specific engineering staff for Drogheda, as well as no specfic budgetary policy. That was the wrong decision for a town the size of Drogheda.
The second issue is that a significant part of Drogheda sprawls into County Meath. Drogheda is the base for commercial activity and educational purposes for people living in parts of County Meath within the boundaries of Meath County Council.
The petition is specific in seeking city status for Drogheda.
On the interim measures, I acknowledge that the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, has come forward with proposals, not just for this part of Meath and Louth, in terms of Drogheda, but other areas where there is urban sprawl from a main town into an adjoining county. That was pulled from the legislation that we dealt with just after Christmas, in respect of creating urban area committees. There is huge potential for us, as legislators, to consider that option in order that we can get cohesive planning because bad planning has happened in the past by just natural sprawl. We must ensure that citizens who live in these areas of sprawl get the services that they require, which should be the focus of everything that drives us, regardless of whether one lives on the Meath or Louth side, the Kilkenny or Waterford side or the Roscommon or Westmeath side, in deference to my colleague seated beside me, Deputy Eugene Murphy. We must look after these citizens and ensure they get a good deal for the town in which they live.
In respect of the campaign here, I note the presence of my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd. He is an advocate for the town of Drogheda and a former member of the local council. I also note that the town is naturally growing. In terms of its status, I have an issue, which I have conveyed to the committee and publically as well, with statistics being used in the composition of the overall figures that would take in not just part of the coastal area of Meath but the wider hinterland of Meath into Duleek and so forth. I have a problem with the practice that I have articulated. There is a way forward for the people of Drogheda, as a proud town, to obtain what they want but I reiterate, as a representative of the county of Meath, that parts of Meath cannot be annexed in order to achieve that goal.
City status is an important issue for everybody in County Louth, particularly in Drogheda, and, indeed, in east Meath. The area has grown phenomenally in Drogheda, east Meath and south Louth. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has released figures that show the town of Drogheda has a population in excess of 40,000. On the north side of Drogheda there is planning permission for over 5,000 homes and on the south side of Drogheda, there is huge development both in County Meath and in Drogheda itself. I think a critical mass will be reached by the next census. The CSO has told me that the population of the town will exceed 50,000 within the next five years or so.
I believe that the petition should be left open. Also, the correspondence received from the Department does not address the issue of city status at all, which is one good reason to keep the petition open. There is an even better reason for doing so. The people of the Drogheda area have no control over their destiny, they have no local council and all of the administration is based in Dundalk. This is a town that is bigger than the administrative counties of Longford or Leitrim. It is unacceptable that Drogheda would not be designated a city and have its own city manager.
Galway was deemed a city when its population reached 38,000. What happened then was that the county manager of Galway became the city manager for Galway city and the county manager for Galway county. That person held both positions until retirement, after which the jobs were advertised separately. As part of the process, the present county manager should be made a county manger of the city of Drogheda and when she ceases to hold that office, a county manager for the city of Drogheda should be appointed. In that way the budgets would be merged and there would be a complete regulation of how budgets are managed, who gets what and who contributes to what.
In east Meath there are huge planning issues and a huge controversy about developments, which are the subject of serious complaints and high-level investigations into planning irregularities. There was one plan for the whole area that was produced by Meath County Council and Louth County Council but it was overturned by a former municipal council area in east Meath, which led to a huge and disgraceful controversy. To avoid all of that I ask that we seek further clarification, contact the Central Statistics Office and examine the process. This is the first time that I have attended this committee and I am not an official member of the committee. However, I call on the committee to examine the process by which an area gets city status, and I mean discover the nuts and bolts of what one must do in terms of administrative joining up together.
One cannot hold back the town of Drogheda and it is going to be a city. It is the biggest town in Ireland outside of the main cities. I ask the committee to keep this issue alive, hold further debates and seek more facts. We must control our destiny. A local bid committee is trying to raise funding to improve the town and have additionality from the business community. The committee is very anxious that that would happen. Drogheda wants to improve and grow, the recognition of which would be to make Drogheda a city. Making it a city is only a word. Drogheda must have a city manager and the accompanying administrative powers and infrastructure.
We have before us a proposal to keep the petition live and open. We must have regard to the response that we received from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government through its assistant secretary general. Once one reads the document, one realises that it does not address the issue of city status, which is the subject of the petition that we are dealing with today. On that basis, there is a proposal here to acknowledge the fact that Deputy Cassells has addressed his concerns about the population of 6,500 that would come from the Meath side and the issues addressed by Deputy O'Dowd in respect of the CSO projections about reaching city status within five years or thereabouts.
Given the fact that the Department's response to this committee has not necessarily addressed, or adequately addressed I would contend, the issue of city status, there is a proposal here to keep the petition open, to correspond with the Department again and ask for further clarification in respect of the petition for city status, and to be very clear about that.
There are other issues concerning the growth, development and planning issues. I respectfully suggest that they would be dealt with within the relevant line Department or line committees that deal with the environment and housing as that is the most appropriate way to do so.
Yes. I support the fact that the provision of statistics by the CSO will be informative for Drogheda and many other areas. I agree with the Chairman that the response, while informative and addressed some of the issues at play, did not address the issue of city status. It would be important for the status to be addressed as well.
As I stated in my speech, I fully support the reinstatement of the entire administrative structure. Indeed, I have a Bill that has reached Committee Stage that seeks to achieve that aim not just for Drogheda but for every major town in this country. By way of full disclosure, I was born in Drogheda and, unfortunately, I have County Louth stamped on my passport instead of County Meath.
I thank the members for their interventions on this petition. I acknowledge the presence of the good people of County Louth here as well. We, as a committee, are trying to broker some middle ground here where there is an acknowledgement of the reality that exists on the ground but without actually encroaching. I understand the concerns of Deputy Cassells in that regard. We are agreed that we will keep the petition open and will correspond further. I thank the members for their time discussing this matter.
The next petition is No. P00004/19. I propose that we forward a copy of the response from the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
In respect of Petition No. P0006/19, I propose that we forward to the petitioner a copy of the response received from the Department of Justice and Equality and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I thank members for their attendance.