OUTRAGE EXPRESSED AT CLONES SOCIAL WELFARE OFFICE CLOSURE 

10 January 2015 No Comments by The Northern Standard

By Cianna McNally

Outrage has been expressed in Clones following the news this week that the Social Welfare Office in the town will close early next month.

A statement from the Department of Social Protection said that a review of services in North Monaghan was carried out by the North East Divisional management after the Clones Branch Office manager signalled his intention to retire on 6th February after 32 years’ service.

‘Following the review it was decided to close the Branch Office in Clones with effect from the 6th February 2015,’ the statement read.

Sinn Féin councillor for the Ballybay-Clones area, Pat Treanor, has reacted angrily to the decision and claimed that he was lied to. Councillor Treanor told the Northern Standard that he was assured a month ago by Junior Minister at the Department of Social Protection, Kevin Humphreys, that there would be no closures.

He was part of a Monaghan County Council delegation which met Junior Minister Kevin Humphreys on 3rd December to lobby for the retention of the Social Protection Card Office in Ballybay. During the meeting Cllr Treanor asked if there were any plans to close any Social Welfare offices.

“The Minister emphatically denied that there were any such plans and then proceeded to state that they were going to enhance the services at each Welfare Office. We were lied to,” stated Cllr Treanor.

Similarly, former Clones town councillor and INOU (Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed) representative on Cavan / Monaghan ETB Deirdre Kelly described the decision to close the Social Welfare Office as shocking.

“The proposed closure of the Social Welfare office would be a further decimation of services in Clones and would see the removal of another vital service from the town,” said Ms Kelly.

She added that “the powers that be” who remove these vital services were “slowly sucking the life out of small towns like Clones” and the closure of the Social Welfare Office made neither social nor economic sense.

Once the office closes, Clones customers will have to travel to Social Welfare Offices in Monaghan and Castleblayney or the Intreo Centre in Cavan.

According to the statement, customers who reside more than 16 kilometres from a Branch Office or Intreo Centre would continue to avail of the postal signing arrangement whereby they sign a postal declaration two months out of three and sign in the Branch Office or Intreo Centre on the third month.

The statement also referred to a ‘good public transport service operating between Clones and Monaghan Town providing direct bus services,’ something that Ms Kelly disagreed with.

“This is totally inaccurate and disingenuous and for those without private transport this will be a real difficulty. It will also add considerable cost and impose further hardship on those who are on a minimal social welfare payment who are already struggling because of spiralling costs,” stated Ms Kelly.

She also hit back at the Department’s claim that there was going to be ‘no diminution of service to customers in the Clones catchment area as there will still be three officials in Clones, in addition to Local Employment Services.’

“That is a totally separate service that is being offered so there is going to be a diminution of services to people,” Ms Kelly declared.

ACTION BEING TAKEN

Ms Kelly also told how she had made a representation to Cavan/Monaghan Fianna Fáil T.D Deputy Brendan Smith in relation to the closure of the Clones Social Welfare Office.

“He subsequently made a written representation to An Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton T.D outlining the serious concerns of the local community and requesting that this decision be reversed. Ms. Burton has replied to Deputy Smith stating that she is making enquiries into the matter and will reply as soon as possible. Deputy Smith has also tabled a Parliamentary Question in relation to this important issue,” Ms Kelly concluded.

Cllr Treanor said that he had discussed the office closure with Deputy Caoimhghin Ó Caolain, who was fully supportive of a reversal of this decision.

“He is writing to Minister Kevin Humphreys seeking an explanation and the retention of the Social Welfare Office in Clones,” said Cllr Treanor.

The closure of the Social Welfare Office comes in the wake of the ongoing controversy in relation to the closure of the Clones branch of Ulster Bank.

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