Protesters locked out as city budget agreed

Protesters were locked out of Cork City Hall last night as councillors agreed a 2014 budget described by the city manager as a “turning point” for the city.

Tim Lucey said it was the first budget in several years that did not include funding or service cuts. He said the city would spend just over €165m delivering services next year — €3m more than this year.

He said 314 employees had left the council since 2009 and not been replaced — including 30 this year alone and 24 more next year.

Despite payroll savings of €16m, he said the council has been unable to pass the benefits to ratepayers because its other income streams were under such pressure.

After a lengthy meeting, councillors voted 17-13 for — Fine Gael and Labour for, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Socialist Party, Workers’ Party, and independents against — a budget which saw commercial rates held at the same level for the sixth year in a row, the establishment of a €2m fund to tackle vacant council houses, and a €250,000 fund to help the development of a city centre strategy.

There was no increase in local authority rents, or in on-street and off-street parking charges.

Several attempts to reduce the lord mayor’s salary and councillors’ conference expenses were voted down.

Fine Gael and Labour welcomed the budget, but Seán Martin (FF) slated it against the backdrop of plummeting income streams like commercial rates and pay parking. “It’s all smoke and mirrors pretending this is all rosy in the garden.”

Socialist Mick Barry said the troika might be gone, but austerity remained in place. “An axe has been taken to the staff numbers in this organisation who provide services to the people of Cork,” he said.

Chris O’Leary (SF) said: “This budget is about kissing the people of Cork until May and screwing them in June.”

Kieran McCarthy (Ind) accused government party councillors of engaging in “spin”.

Security was tight in and around City Hall, with ticket-only access and a handful of observers, most of whom were politics students at UCC, watching from the public gallery.

About 40 protesters gathered on the steps outside between 6pm and 7pm but were locked out by security staff. They handed in an open letter and a toilet roll for the new mayoral toilet, which was the subject of controversy last week.

In the letter, Diarmaid Ó Cadhla, a spokesman for the People’s Convention, described the budget meeting as an insult to the people of Cork. “Your task is to provide a forum for our communities, for our representation — not for party ‘whips’ or other vested interests — shame on you for locking us out,” he said.

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