23 March 2011 No Comments by The Northern Standard

News that the Dept of Agriculture’s District Veterinary Office in Ballybay was set for closure as a public facility on May 20 sparked a heated debate at a special meeting of Monaghan Co Council convened on Wednesday morning last.
Co Mayor Jackie Crowe facilitated discussion on the issue but was to express deep disappointment at the tenor of the resultant exchanges, which saw accusations of blame hurled across the chamber between the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael benches over where political responsibility for the closure lay.
FF’s John O’Brien accused the new FG-led Coalition of making the closure decision after being “only a wet week-and-a-half in government”, while FG members branded former Agriculture Minister and sitting Cavan/Monaghan FF TD Brendan Smith as the culprit, Hugh McElvaney decrying the decision as “an act of FF political treachery” that was linked to the loss by the party of Margaret Conlon’s seat in the constituency in the General Election.
Members agreed to the Mayor’s proposal to request Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to meet a Council delegation with a view to having the decision reversed and the 50 local jobs saved, and to a proposal from John O’Brien that the Minister be requested to postpone or reverse the decision.
A number of proposals from FG’s Owen Bannigan were also agreed, including a request that a letter be sent to Minister for Enterprise Richard Bruton emphasising the major adverse impact the threatened job losses would have on the town of Ballybay.
Sinn Féin’s Pat Treanor proposed, Colr McElvaney seconding, that Cavan/Monaghan’s five TDs be requested to support the campaign to reverse the closure decision.
Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy described the Ballybay issue as the first major political test facing new Co Monaghan FG Deputies Heather Humphreys and Sean Conlan.
Appointed to the delegation to meet the Minister were Colrs Owen Bannigan and Aidan Murray (FG); Pádraig McNally and John O’Brien (FF); Brian McKenna and Pat Treanor (SF), and Seamus Treanor (Ind). The delegation will also be accompanied by the Co Mayor.
Indicating that he would allow a discussion of the Ballybay farm office issue at Wednesday’s meeting (which was convened to formally co-opt new FG councillor Ciara McPhillips), Mayor Crowe stated that the office’s imminent closure would have profound effects on the people of Ballybay. Farmers would have to travel to Cavan to do their business with the agricultural services there. Noting that this development had been coming down the road for a long time and that the Co Council had many debates about it in the recent past, he remarked: “The hens have come home to roost.”
Expressing fears for the jobs at the Ballybay facility, the Mayor proposed that the Council write immediately to the Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, seeking a meeting with him in an attempt to save the jobs and keep the office alive.
Seconding the Mayor’s proposal, FF’s John O’Brien said he was disappointed and saddened to learn this news the previous evening, when a number of staff members contacted him. The Council needed to get clarity from the Minister as to what was the state of affairs as the situation seemed unclear.
Colr O’Brien said he believed staff received an e-mail stating that the office was going to close, but he would like to get some direct clarity from the Minister and the Dept on the situation.
Ballybay had been hit by the recession more so than any other town in the county. There were currently 51 people employed in the office, and the loss of business from these people and the farmers using the office would be a blow to the local economy. It was going to be a sad day for Ballybay.
When Fine Gael’s Hugh McElvaney said that Colr O’Brien’s contribution was “fun and games”, the FF councillor said he would not play fun and games with this issue. A delegation from the Council had met with the former Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith in Dublin and in Castleblayney Enterprise Centre and he went on public record to clearly state that, as long as he was the Minister, the Ballybay office would not close.
Colr McElvaney said that Colr O’Brien’s contribution was “outrageous”, and called on the Mayor to rule him out of order.
Colr O’Brien continued that he was seriously saddened for the people who worked in the office. He proposed that the Council call on the new Minister for Agriculture to postpone or reverse the decision to close the Ballybay office.
FF’s Pádraig McNally said he got a phone call on Monday evening alerting him to the proposed closure on May 20. If that was the case, at least the Council had eight or nine weeks to try to negotiate in a calm and collective fashion to convince the Minister. Minister Coveney was only in his job a week, and he didn’t think he could be expected to know the situation with regard to every farm office.
He understood the Minister was abroad at present. The Council had time on their side to have this decision reviewed.


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