By Suzanne Pender
AN ANGRY row erupted between mayor of Carlow cllr Fintan Phelan and a senior housing official over what the mayor described as a “lack of response” from the county’s housing department.
At a recent meeting of Carlow Municipal District, cllr Phelan admitted he was reluctantly raising a matter, pointing out that council members “were not getting phone calls back from the housing office” when they contacted staff on foot of representations received from members of the public. Cllr Phelan cited an incident earlier that day where he had been assured he would receive a response to a query he had made before the municipal district meeting, but he had not received any call.
Housing official Brian O’Donovan took huge exception to cllr Phelan’s comments, pointing out that the housing department had “four hours of continuous meetings” earlier that day.
Mr O’Donovan also revealed the large volume of representations being made by elected members, with one individual emailing an astonishing 135 representations from members of the public to the housing department in just one day. Mr O’Donovan pointed out that the housing department was dealing with 18 councillors and five TDs and that the level of representations was “unsustainable”, with staff expected to reply to each one. He insisted that staff “do attempt to get back”.
However, cllr Phelan cited cases where he had emailed the department with housing issues, yet three weeks later he had received no response. “It’s simply not good enough,” said cllr Phelan.
Cllr Phelan said the “vast majority” of council housing staff will get back, but the system of dealing with representations “needed to improve”.
Mr O’Donovan described cllr Phelan’s remarks as “very personal attacks on the housing staff”, describing the mayor’s comments as “highly inappropriate”. He said the housing staff were “absolutely to the pin of their collar” and it would take two staff members working full-time to deal with representations alone.
Cllr Ken Murnane stated that “not one elected member is unaware of how busy the housing department is”, but added that it had been agreed some years ago that representations from members would be responded to within 48 hours.
“We have a job to do, too, and we need a response back,” insisted cllr Phelan.
Cllr Adrienne Wallace said the debate indicated the scale of the housing crisis. “It’s unfair for council staff to be criticised when this housing crisis has been orchestrated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael,” she declared.
Cllr Fergal Browne questioned the system and the insistence that the housing department should respond to each query, even though some members of the public are making representations to several elected members.
Cllr Cassin questioned the volume of 135 representations in one day, adding that this “had to be looked at”.
“Staff can’t be expected to reply to 135 emails … that is completely blocking the system,” added cllr Cassin.
Cllr Andrea Dalton suggested an ‘in-committee’ meeting to implement a better system of representations for all concerned.
“It is important that the message gets out to the public that housing allocation is based on a system of needs and priority, not representations,” she said.