FOUR Donegal TDs have written to Heritage Minister Malcolm Noonan asking him to appoint a paid officer to oversee the development of Letterkenny’s Cathedral Quarter.
The move comes amid a campaign by Sligo politician Nessa Cosgrove who has been highlighting the issue of low pay within the voluntary and community sector. Ms Cosgrove has been championing the need for better conditions for community and project officers who she says have been overlooked despite the sterling work they do.
In light of the Sligo activist’s push, TDs Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Pearse Doherty, Thomas Pringle and Agriculture and Marine Minister Charlie McConalogue have all contacted the Minister of State for Heritage. So too have MEPs Chris McManus and Colm Markey.
They are calling for a salaried officer to be put in place to lead out the future development of Letterkenny’s Cathedral Quarter.
Set up in 2014, the Cathedral Quarter project’s aim is to regenerate Church Lane Street and its surrounding areas to create a “tourist gem in the heart of Letterkenny that can be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike”.
Spearheaded by Donnan Harvey, the voluntary initiative has enjoyed much success in rejuvenating a once neglected part of the town. The Cathedral Quarter now has its own Literary Weekend, walking tours and even its own app.
But Donnan Harvey says the progress of the past seven years has been made with very little government support. And if the project is to reach its full potential, it needs a dedicated development officer.
“To achieve our aims we had to convince the local authority and statutory agencies of the benefits of what we were trying to achieve,” Mr Harvey said.
“While Donegal County Council and the Heritage Council have been wholly supportive of our efforts, other agencies have been overwhelmingly lacklustre in their attitude. Similarly, support for community development from the various governments has been completely non-existent and our success has come despite them not because of them.
“In my role as secretary of the community group, I have been driving the project day after day to make sure things get done. But instead of help from the government, I have taken a lot of grief from the Department of Social Welfare who believed that I was deliberately trying not to look for employment. This is a major problem as there is no joined up thinking between the different departments and the officials in some of these departments have no idea that a world exists outside of the boxes that they tick on a daily basis.”
Support has come from the Donegal Local Development Company which has helped identify funding streams and assisted with applications. Beyond that though it has been a struggle.
“In this country you have the absolutely absurd situation that when an idea is conceived until the point of delivery, the government sits on its hands,” according to Mr Harvey.
“This short-sighted attitude is stifling and limiting the country’s potential. How many other great ideas are out there in the community and voluntary sector but their calls for assistance are being ignored to the point where they get fed up with banging their head against a brick wall? We have only succeeded because people at local level believed in what we are doing.”
Donnan Harvey said that given the huge body of work already completed on a voluntary basis, it would be a shame for the Cathedral Quarter initiative to collapse because of a lack of government support.
“It’s not fair on our committee members who have put in so much work. For example at the moment we are working on a document to give to the Ireland 2040 consultants.
“We talk here in Ireland about ‘place making’. That is what we are doing and all we are asking is for a bit of support for the individuals involved. It’s not much to ask, particularly when you consider the experience we can bring to the table and how we can assist other groups who want to do something similar. But there needs to be that support,” he added.