The decision to close Roscommon County Council’s local area offices in Ballaghaderreen, Castlerea and Strokestown to the public was met with widespread anger at Monday’s meeting of the local authority.
The plan was announced by the Council’s Corporate Policy Group at a meeting prior to Monday’s meeting and was met with opposition by members on all sides of the chamber.
Director of Services Shane Tiernan outlined plans for one area office in each Municipal District, highlighting a recent audit which showed a move towards online services.
Mr. Tiernan said the move was justified due to cost savings, and the audit which showed that customer interaction only accounted for 18 percent of area office workload.
Chief Executive Eugene Cummins said the decision was based on the Council’s Digital Transformation plans and being more efficient with services.
“Our Human Resources are our most valuable and expensive resource…but they have to be busy.
“As long as I am Chief Executive I will spend money as efficiently and effectively as possible – whether it’s Lough Funshinagh or cutting a hedge,” he said.
Mr. Cummins said the current system would be enhanced and that services would be provided locally, and that he didn’t want people to think that services were being taken away.
The decision to close the offices, which have remained shut since the outbreak of Covid-19, was described as a “retrograde step” by several members, who said the connection with local communities would be lost following the closures.
Fianna Fáil councillor Paschal Fitzmaurice said it was a disappointing day for Castlerea. “Not everyone is up to grade on technology,” he said. “The least that should happen is that all services be provided through the local libraries”.
Independent councillor Anthony Waldron and Fine Gael councillor Liam Callaghan both highlighted the closures’ negative impact on local businesses, while Fianna Fáil councillor Marty McDermott described the decision as a “major mistake”.
“The people of Roscommon will reject this…they will be outraged,” he said.
Fianna Fáil councillor Orla Leyden said the decision was contrary to the idea of decentralisation and joined a number of members in urging the executive to reconsider.
“It’s sad that as a local authority we’re talking about centralising these services when as public representatives we are asked to consider decentralisation.
“We weren’t able to stop local banks from closing but we should be able to influence this,” she said.
Fellow Fianna Fáil councillor John Keogh said such closures “fly in the face” of people wanting to relocate to rural areas in Roscommon post-Covid.
Independent councillor Nigel Dineen said the closures would leave a “big vacuum” for a large part of the county and said that people wouldn’t travel 50km to access services.
Fianna Fáil councillor John Cummins, meanwhile, urged the Executive to “look at the bigger picture”.
“You can look at all the facts and figures you like…but people will be impacted by this with a huge loss of footfall to these towns,” he said.
Defending the decision, Chef Executive Eugene Cummins said it was based on “facts and figures”, and reiterated the audit’s findings that the current footfall in local area offices didn’t justify the expense.