Posted by Denise McNamara, Connacht Tribune in News.

Galway County Council would kill the voluntary sector overnight if rules requiring safety plans and insurance to indemnify the local authority are enforced.

That’s the warning from Loughrea Councillor Jimmy McClearn who said he “saw red” when reading a circular from the council about voluntary and community activities on roads, amenity areas and public places under the charge of the Council.

The circular sets out for the first time what is now required from community and voluntary groups such as Tidy Towns committees, residents associations and sporting groups before they set out to improve their local environment.

A written outline of the work must be submitted of their proposals detailing the locations, the time schedule and the number of people involved and whether they are part of a Community Employment Scheme or volunteers. The municipal district engineer must then agree in writing to the plan.

The community or voluntary group must provide written confirmation it has public liability insurance up to €6.5 million for a single incident and employers’ liability up to €12.7 million.

They must also sign a statement that all of the work or services will be carried out in compliance with health and safety legislation.

“This effectively means that all involved must have appropriate training, signage, equipment and properly developed and appropriate safety plans. The community groups and voluntary agencies must comply with the requirements of documents such as the Guidance Document for Control and Management of Traffic at Roadworks where appropriate,” the circular states.

“Whilst Galway County Council will make every effort to assist these projects, failure to comply or ensure ongoing compliance with the requirements of the above will prevent a project commencing or cause it to be stopped without notice,” it continues.

At this month’s meeting of Loughrea Municipal District, Cllr McClearn said there would be no more good work carried out by small groups or volunteers if the requirements were enforced.

“I’d hate to see our local authority kill the voluntary sector. Do we understand that Tidy Towns and community groups operate on a shoestring? They don’t have money to pay for safety statements, public insurance or employers’ liability.”

He said there were numerous groups across the county who received small grants to carry out vital work for the benefit of the community but would be unable to meet these extra costs or red tape.

“We might as well say to them you’re out of business, your town is out of business. You might as well sit back and relax.”

Cllr Anne Rabbitte said the rules meant that a planned cleanup of the Shannon Road in Portumna over the weekend was up in the air.

“There’s a shoot down now of every Tidy Towns activity until there’s a safety plan in place.” she said.

“We have our insurance because we’re big enough but now we have to get emails and addresses of twelve volunteers and written permission from the landowner. I’ve 12 people ready to go and do work on Saturday but we don’t know if we can go ahead.”

Cllr Michael Mogie Maher cited the example of Loughrea Tidy Towns insurance policy which cost €400. The group got a grant of €2,5000 so could manage to pay it. But when they tried to include two smaller community groups under their policy, the cover was going to cost €300 extra per group, which was not affordable.

Senior Roads Engineer Evan Molloy said the Council had no desire to limit the work of the community sector but there was no point in ignoring the issue of liability.

“This is not down to Galway County Council looking for a raft of paperwork. If somebody gets hurt on the Shannon Road, who are they going to come after? There’s enough of Tidy Towns organisations to come together and draft a document,” he said.

“This is not so much that anything has changed but it has to be clarified. Health and safety legislation is criminal legislation. We have to have full compliance.”