This month’s council meeting of the Municipal District of Drogheda saw Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne table a motion calling for Louth County Council to source an indoor exhibition space to facilitate the return of The Merryweather Fire Engine. The fire engine is currently in storage in Dundalk and Cllr Byrne feels it would be better served here in the town as part of Drogheda’s proud history rather than allowing it to fall into a state of neglect.
Taking the floor on her motion Cllr Byrne stated that “the popular Green Machine is of historic importance to the town”. She reminded the chamber that during World War II (1941), together with an engine from Dundalk, The Merryweather from Drogheda responded to Belfast’s may-day call during the blitz.
Impassioned words from Cllr Byrne cited “Not only is this machine of historic importance to our town, but it is also of sentimental value to many Firefighters who served on this machine, children who watched their parents serve on this machine, and townspeople who took great pride in this machine, and still do.
The Merryweather before and after restoration in 2016
“The Merryweather was restored in recent years and for it to now be lying in somebody’s shed at the far end of this County is a crying shame! The Local Authority needs to source an indoor exhibition space, bring our Merryweather home, put in on proud display and let the Fire Service showcase it at events. Anything less would be dishonourable to the more recent history of Drogheda.”
In response to Cllr Byrne’s initial request, Louth County Council have sourced a protective breathable cover for The Merryweather whilst it remains in storage. They also replied “That this Council will commit to seeking an indoor exhibition space for The Merryweather Fire Engine in Drogheda and return it back to the town for display to the townspeople and the use of the Fire Service for events when required.”
Cllr Byrne said “I will be monitoring this very closely and will not rest until The Merryweather is back where it belongs.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has welcomed a commitment from Louth County Council that works will take place to repair the cobble walkway and the lighting leading up to the Millmount Martello Tower, or the ‘Cup and Saucer’ as it’s widely known among Drogheda locals.
Last month Cllr Byrne had a motion passed for these works to be done and was advised that an examination and a report would need to take place.
On following up on the issue Cllr Byrne said “I received a timely and welcome response that the examination had in fact taken place and the local authority had identified that works were indeed needed and were in the process of seeking quotes for the works to be carried out.”
Cllr Byrne sought clarification on whether these works were subject to funding and “I am delighted to say, they are not and the works will be carried out as soon as a contractor is confirmed.”
Cllr Byrne said: “too many of our town’s heritage jewels have been allowed fall into states of neglect and disrepair and I wasn’t willing to stand by and allow another one go the same way. The cobble walkway leading up to the tower at Millmount is our only point of access. If this collapsed where would that leave us? Not only that, but all the potholes in this walkway are resulting in leaks down into the Governor’s House which in turn poses a risk of damage to the internal archway. The commitment to carry out the necessary works is warmly welcomed and I look forward to seeing these works commence in the near future.”
At this month’s Municipal District of Drogheda meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne raised concerns about Louth County Council’s system to assist those seeking emergency accommodation.
Cllr Byrne, who has proved a strong advocate for the homeless in Drogheda, expressed major reservations about the process a homeless person has to go through to secure emergency accommodation.
Cllr Byrne also suggested some changes, which were dismissed on the night by the Senior Executive Officer for Housing Aoife Lawlor.
Cllr Byrne said “At present, somebody who is experiencing homelessness in Drogheda presents to the Homeless Officer, gets approved for assistance and if there are no beds available with the NGO’s who provide Homeless facilities in this town, they are then told to find a B&B and it will be paid for. This is all well and good until somebody can’t find a B&B, then where do they go, onto the streets?”
She went on to say “I have had many people present to my clinics in this distressing situation and I have spent numerous hours calling B&B’s who nine times out of ten seem to be fully booked when they hear it’s to house a homeless individual or family. There is, without a doubt, a stigma surrounding people in this unfortunate situation and there is a reluctance to take these people in. If a County Councillor cannot secure a booking for them what hope do they have themselves?”
Councillor Byrne asked if the local authority would consider establishing a link with some B&Bs, enough with a capacity to cater for the numbers presenting as homeless and requiring emergency accommodation in B&Bs, so that at any given stage the Homeless Officer would know what beds would be available to the local authority and have somewhere concrete to settle this person in until alternative solutions were made available – this suggestion was immediately dismissed with the Senior Executive Officer quoting “too many liabilities involved in such an arrangement”.
Cllr Byrne was deeply dissatisfied with this response and concluded in stating that “facing homelessness and a night on the streets is everybody’s worst nightmare, without the added pressure of ringing or calling to 10-15 B&B’s in some cases before securing a bed. This is an area the local authority is majorly lacking in, sitting back with a sporadic ad-hoc approach is failing our homeless and adding much more unnecessary pressure to an already daunting scenario. Some sort of legitimate system needs to be put in place especially as presentations of this nature are growing higher by the week.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has once again slammed Louth County Council for not taking the Homelessness situation in the County seriously enough.
Cllr Byrne was speaking at this month’s Council meeting and said “I want to express my deep dissatisfaction at the reporting of Homelessness from this local authority. We are sitting here looking at a Homelessness report that has not been updated since January. It has been just copied and pasted for the last two months.”
Councillors receive a monthly report giving statistics on the county situation but the report at this month’s meeting appeared to be the same as the January report.
Cllr Byrne then listed a number of what she seen as ‘failures’ on the issue of homelessness. Cllr Byrne said “This is at a time where we have had no Rough Sleeper Count done in the South of the County in 16 months, at a time where the Homelessness section of Louth County Council’s website which provides vital contact information for those who need it has been inaccessible for a month, at a time where the executive of this Council is defying the will of the members who are calling for additional homeless facilities to cater for those suffering with addictions.”
“I don’t know if this copy and paste effort is down to incompetence, laziness or blatant manipulation of the information being conveyed to the members, but regardless of which of the three, it is it is not acceptable.”
These claims were met with cries of dismay from the top table and Director of Services for Housing Paddy Donnelly replied stating he ‘took great exception’ to Cllr Byrne’s remarks. Cllr Byrne concluded in saying” There is no accountability here and in my opinion Homelessness needs to become more of a priority for this Local Authority and as a matter of urgency!”
These claims were met with cries of dismay from the top table and Director of Services for Housing Paddy Donnelly replied stating he ‘took great exception’ to Cllr Byrne’s remarks.
Cllr Byrne concluded in saying” There is no accountability here and in my opinion Homelessness needs to become more of a priority for this Local Authority and as a matter of urgency!”
Sinn Féin Councillor Joanna Byrne has welcomed confirmation she received from the Director of Services for Housing In Louth that the Local Authority have recommenced appointments with applicants for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loans.
Cllr Byrne also received confirmation that applications will be assessed and processed on the same criteria as the last round of applicants. The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme, which assists middle to low income families who are first time buyers and have been refused mortgages by banks is the only scheme available aimed at assisting people in lower wages brackets to be able to buy their forever home.
Cllr Byrne has stated “The recent instruction from the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, for Louth County Council to cease issuing these loans was a major blow to many people who might see this as their only option. There is a huge cohort of people in this county caught in a position of earning too much to be eligible for Social Housing, but not enough to be considered for a mortgage. With an unsustainable rise in house prices, and no affordable housing schemes available, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is the only other alternative, it is imperative that this remains open for applications for constituents in this County.”