THE fight to save up to 200 jobs and a host of services in west Limerick gained momentum when by far the biggest public meeting for many years in Newcastle West was held last week.
And every community in the area had representatives there at the event called by West Limerick Resources to explain proposed changes in local government and the effect these will have on the way local partnership companies will operate in the future, the meeting was a call to arms.
It would be difficult for WLR to survive and continue providing the range of services it does if it loses control over two core funding programmes, the Local Community and Development Programme and the Leader or Rural Development Programme, Shay Riordan, manager of WLR explained. Under the People before Profit reforms set in train by Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Phil Hogan companies like WLR would have to tender for funds, in competition with other, for-profit companies.
The risk, he argued, was that 21 years of expertise and experience would be lost and West Limerick could also lose out on being able to leverage additional funds. And there was also a risk of job losses. Over 40 people are directly employed by WLR while 156 people are employed indirectly through schemes such as TUS. “We support stronger local government,” Mr Riordan said, “but it should not come at the cost of stronger local development.”
A range of speakers, all of whom had been direct experience of support from WLR Ltd, spelled out what it had meant for them.
Without WLR, Grainne Walsh from Foynes said, they wouldn’t have a revamped community centre, a youth club or a centre for senior citizens. “I am not afraid of change,” she said, “but I don’t believe in fixing what is not broken.”
“I couldn’t have done it on my own,” Anthony O’Shaughnessy, who set up his own counselling service with help from WLR told the audience. And there were other testimonials too, all attesting to the encouragement and detailed support WLR Ltd had given individuals, start-up businesses and community groups.
But the issue for most people was: what is going to happen now? “I don’t see that WLR is being wiped out,” Anne Mordan, Adare said but she wanted to know: What is the positive approach? what can WLR look for?
The difficulty, Shay Riordan explained, is that they had spent over a year trying to arrive at a negotiated agreement but without success. “I don’t know what will bring it over the line but it will not be for want of trying on our side,” he said. However, he said later, he believes there is an agreement to be struck.
Chairman of WLR Ltd, Tom Madigan spelled it out. “It is regrettable our TDs are not here,” he said. “But we have to deliver the message. Ye, as individuals, have to deliver the message and go to the TDs and ask the question – What are you doing about it? “
The opportunity cannot be let slip, he added.
“We can reconvene any Sunday if Minister Hogan comes down to meet us,” Carmel Ryan, of Askeaton, said to loud applause.
Cllr Michael Collins pointed out that he and Fianna Fail had opposed the setting up of the new Limerick Local Community Development Committee because there had been no clear information given on its make-up. But Cllr John Sheahan said this committee was an oversight committee, and he didn’t see that it would be reversed. It was about “how best we can move the process on”, he argued.
West Limerick Resources has thanked the hundreds of people from across the West Limerick area turned out to learn more about the potential implications of these changes on their communities and on the future sustainability of West Limerick Resources. The message – “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it” – was echoed throughout the evening by the many people who spoke passionately about the benefits of the current services.