Report from Economic SPC Strategic Policy Committee meeting January 9th 2017 and subsequent actions!

“To say I was not happy with how the meeting finished would be true! When I heard the proposed changes it appeared to be a whole restructuring of the SPCs in Clare without any consultation with the PPN and our representatives on the SPCs. “

Here’s the agenda for the meeting on Monday Jan 9th with some of my notes scribbled all over it. Apologies – I do a lot of that!


The minutes from the last meeting were adopted and are here:

We had a presentation from the IDA, Industrial Development Authority, which is here.

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It was a very informative update on FDI, Foreign Direct Investment, in Clare. I scribbled some notes which you can see on my photos of the handout and having interrupted a couple of times for clarification on the never ending acronyms I eventually asked the following questions:

  • What future proofing measures the IDA have in place to ensure that the planning of infrastructure considers the challenges posed by climate change especially flooding and is carried out with adequate public participation (complies with the Aarhus convention). The Shannon basin is one of the focus points for development but it is also a flood plain. There is no point in attracting a company that has to leave because it gets flooded.  It’s better to ensure they are not on the flood plain to begin with.
  • Is the IDA taking steps to ensure energy security for companies considering the mid west as a base?
  • Who is responsible for addressing any skills shortages? Does the IDA liaise with the agency responsible? Had there been any skills audit in the area, for example in North Clare where I have never been approached about what I can offer.

The replies were fairly satisfactory.

  • The IDA is aware of the flooding challenge and one of the companies locating are investing in flood defences. Well at least they are openly working on it. My public participation query wasn’t addressed.
  • I had to explain energy security again and was referred to the IDA office in Athlone for further information. Energy and water security are two of the main essentials any industry needs to function. High speed broadband (fibre optic cables at this stage) and quality of life for employees are also very important but the basic needs are energy and water.
  • As I expected the Limerick  and Clare Education and Training Board play a central role in the education and up-skilling of the workforce to encourage inward investment and the IDA does indeed liaise with them and other agencies involved in education. However he was unaware of any skills audit being carried out in Clare.

It is extremely important to remember that the environment plays a central role in FDI. The availability of resources and quality of life for employees are game changers. That said the status and supports afforded the environmental sector in Ireland would have you believe their role in protecting the environment is worthless but that’s just my opinion based on my 10 years of experience.

We spent an hour and a half on the IDA update with a lot of discussion including the possible impact of Brexit and Donald Trump as president of the US. One interesting insight is commuting to work. What we may consider a long commute, say from Loop Head to Ennis or Shannon, is nothing compared to the 2+ hours many Americans have.

The County Development Plan has been adopted by the councillors and comes into effect on January 24th. It will then be available online. Here’s the latest draft on the council website.

So to the proposed changes to the Strategic Policy Committee structures. To say I was not happy with how the meeting finished would be true! When I heard the proposed changes it appeared to be a whole restructuring of the SPCs in Clare without any consultation with the PPN and our representatives on the SPCs. Effectively the new Chief Executive is aligning his SPCs with areas of work so the following is a list of the SPCs in Clare:

  1. Physical Development
  2. Economic Development
  3. Rural Development
  4. Social Development

I raised the fact that I had hoped this was a review of the structures as I had changes to propose. When I stated that I had more changes I would like explored we were told that the SPCs are governed by a directive from government and the councils hands are tied.

The main fact I took away is that planning, which is currently within the remit of the Planning and Housing SPC, is to be placed within the Economic SPC. I proposed that we need more PPN members on the Economic SPC but I was told membership was set out at the onset of this council and could not be changed. When I challenged that reply I was told we had to follow the directives from government.This is not the first time national government has been blamed for tying the hands of the council. Apparently Clare county council cannot take any initiative in climate and energy dialogue until the department tells them what to do.

What I propose needs to be done:

  • More PPN representation – there are no Social Inclusion or Community reps on the Economic SPC
  • Members should have a greater say in the agenda and who is invited in to present to them
  • There are no working groups and no opportunity for communications between all of the members outside of quarterly meetings. It is apparent that the councillors and the council staff have plenty discussed in between meetings so decisions are more than likely made ahead of the SPC meeting which may well be the first time I hear about them
  • I would also like electronic communications when possible. The amount of printing generated by the paper trail ahead of meetings is wasteful as is the postage of the agenda. Surely the economic SPC members are familiar with the internet? If not I must ask why they are on the committee given that nearly all sectors of the economy are computerised.

When it came to any other business I brought up agenda setting and the fact that members have no say in it. I proposed that we have someone to talk about the economics of climate change. I also told members that following an approach from Clare PPN, Marie Donnelly of DG Energy in the EU commission was interested in visiting Clare and would be an excellent guest to present to the Economic SPC. After a brief explanation of why the others agreed and I will now follow that up and invite Marie Donnelly to the next Economic SPC meeting.

So to Tuesday Jan 10th and the PPN meeting with the new Chief Executive of Clare County Council Pat Dowling. This was timely given the revelations at my SPC meeting. I won’t be reporting on that meeting here apart from the fact that I raised my concerns and proposal that the PPN should be able to review it’s representation on the SPCs given that the SPCs have changed. He agreed to considering it and requested that I put it in an email.

So today, Wednesday Jan 11th. I get to write this report blog and I sent an email to the council which included the following:

“Now that the SPCs have been reconfigured Clare PPN would appreciate the opportunity to review our representation on them. Our reps are elected by and to represent  the community groups in Clare. The reps currently hold the position they were elected to for their experience and expertise in a particular area. My example yesterday was our planning rep who will be out of place now that planning is becoming part of the Economic SPC. She needs to be able to transfer to the Economic SPC if she so wishes. This may be true for other reps and we welcome the opportunity to explore this further. I think Tourism has also been reassigned?”
Meanwhile the Intreo office want me to come in and discuss my unemployed status with a view to my getting a job!!! 🙂
Theresa O’Donohoe Jan 11th 2017

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