Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Closed Shop Group

In the interest of openness and transparency we feel compelled to publish the following piece of correspondence: 

On Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 11:05 AM, LeeAnn Kennedy Purcell wrote:

Without Prejudice / Private and Confidential
Contents not to be forwarded or disclosed without the express permission of the Author

Hello Cathal & Mattie

Thank you for your email the other night.

I just wanted to refer to your advertisement on the Leader recently. I was more than a little disappointed about your reference to the community lawnmower and “alleged insurance issues”. They were very valid reasons and our honest answer and I think that it was very unfair of you to intimate otherwise. Furthermore as you know the Estate Management Committee is a subcommittee of the CSG. We do have residents on the Committee and indeed a local person is the Chair.   

Can you explain why you decided to mention these two particular items in your advertisement without verifying them first and what was your intention in doing so? We need to improve our communication if we are to work together for the benefit of our community – which is, at all times, my priority.

I await hearing from you.



Lee-Ann Kennedy Purcell
Our Lady of Lourdes Community Services Group Ltd
Greenfields Cross,
Rosbrien, Limerick

Here's our reply:

TO: Lee-Ann Kennedy Purcell, CEO, Our Lady of Lourdes Community Services Group Ltd., Greenfields Cross, Rosbrien, Limerick.

Dear Lee-Ann

We refer to your recent e-mail of Monday, June 25, 2012.

As the intended recipient, the Ballinacurra Weston Residents' Alliance (BWRA) reserves the right to publish all correspondence/e-mails that we receive regarding issues of concern to our community. Only correspondence/e-mails that are sent/received on behalf of our individual members are treated as private and confidential. This is our policy and we are not about to change it because of the legally threatening disclaimer at the beginning of your e-mail.

You referred to our most recent ad in the Limerick Leader (view advert) and our reference to the refusal of local Estate Management to allow use of the community ride-on lawnmower in our area because of alleged insurance issues.

Last year, the BWRA purchased a petrol lawnmower, which broke down for the third time on May 14. We had contacted the Estate Management Officer, Katherine Kirby, on May 15 requesting that rubbish that had been gathered during a community clean-up organised by the BWRA be collected and that the community ride-on lawnmower be used to cut the grass on the numerous large green sites in our area, we were refused on both counts.

Prior to publication of the ad we had enquired with 3 insurance companies regarding insurance for ride-on lawnmowers for use in the community and we discovered that is a relatively simple process. Indeed, if we had the model and serial number we could provide you with quotations, in fact the BWRA could purchase our own insurance to use the ride-on lawnmower ourselves. We are also aware that the ride-on lawnmower was recently used to cut the Parish Priest's grass in his large garden, there didn't seem to be an insurance issue then so it is accurate to describe the matter as "alleged" when referring to the excuse we were given.

As you are aware, the BWRA has entered Tidy Towns. We were invited to do so by Limerick City Council and we are working with the Weston Gardens Residents' Association (WGRA) and the School Completions Programme in this regard. We had hoped to receive support from service providers such as local Estate Management, but they are also entering Tidy Towns for estates outside the designated regeneration area. It is our view that service providers shouldn't be allowed to enter such competitions, but act as support for established residents groups, such as ourselves.

We are more than aware that the Estate Management Committee is a sub-committee of the Community Service Group Ltd. (CSG). You may be aware that your appointment as CEO of the CSG was prompted by a recommendation arising from a report on the "Review of the Structure, System, Role and Functions of Our Lady of Lourdes Community Service Group Ltd" in 2010. The BWRA received a copy of this report from an anonymous sender last year.

The report noted that the 46 positions available on the sub-committees were taken up by a total of 29 people with 2 positions vacant and stated that:

"The sub committees do not have constitutions and do not operate in a similar manner to one another. There are no common membership, nomination, representation, election or rotation procedures across the Advisory Groups/Committees. The membership is in general by invitation with each Advisory Group/Committee tending to operate in its own fashion which has grown up over the years. This can lead to the domination of a Committee/Advisory Group by a single member or small number of members, which can further reinforce the perception in some quarters of the 'closed shop' syndrome"

We recently became aware that a resident of our area for little under a year, is our "Community Representative" on the Estate Management Sub-Committee and that this was by invitation of the CSG. Incidentally, this resident and her husband were imported into our area last year by the Regeneration Agency. They were given a house in the area ahead of others on the housing list and at a time when perfectly good houses on the same street were being boarded up and refused to families in need. Her husband was subsequently co-opted on to the agency-established residents forum  to replace the Community Representatives that had resigned the previous year. Their loyalty and commitment to our community is highly questionable. We are unaware who chairs the Estate Management Sub-Committee. 

Prior to receiving the report, the BWRA wrote to the CSG requesting to be involved and asking to nominate representatives, after all, based on completed membership forms we are representative of 95% of residents. We were politely thanked for our interest, but informed that membership was by invitation only as this was, bizarrely, considered by the CSG to be best practice, despite having commissioned and received  a report that stated otherwise. 

The report also noted that the CSG Board of Directors contained only 4 members that were resident in the parish and stated that "these have all been on the Board since the incorporation of the CSG in 1995. This is a further potential cause of the CSG's perception as being a 'closed shop'." None of these parishioners live in our area. It may interest you to know that before we had read the report, we referred to the CSG as the "Closed Shop Group". Needless to say, we still do, as the reports recommendation that 4 Community Representatives should be nominated by Our Lady of Lourdes Umbrella Group was never implemented. The cosmetic reshuffling of the Board of Directors hardly constitutes the real change and inclusiveness called for by the report. 

The report highlighted the many other failings of the CSG such as a "lack of equality of area and interest representation on Board and Advisory Group/Committees", a "lack of openness and transparency in relation to the organisations structures, management and operation", a "lower than desirable level of involvement of the client groups in management structures", "failure to reach the 'hard to reach'", a "lack of an inclusive of all ethos" and a "perception that people from certain areas are not welcome". We would assert that these remain live issues.

You are of course correct when you say that "we need to improve our communication". A good example of this lack of communication is provided by the CSG applying on 31 May for planning permission to build a two-storey extension for the provision of toilet facilities and changing rooms for the all-weather pitch without  involving the Interim Pitch Management Committee (of which we are both members) in the process or even informing us that plans had been submitted. While the plans are to be welcomed, it was Limerick City Council that wrote to the BWRA with the news and invited us to examine the plans before making a submission, not the CSG. As you are aware, the BWRA had campaigned for the toilets and changing facilities to be provided for from the beginning.

The BWRA wants to see more inclusive structures put in place that would allow for real community participation in the day-to-day management of our estate. We believe that positions, such as that of Estate Management Officer, should only be open to residents. If such paid workers decide to leave our community, as Ms. Kirby did over 8-years ago, then they should also leave their job. Ultimately, we believe that such work should be voluntary and in these austere times that makes perfect sense. Sub-committees should be directly elected by and accountable to the community. Our community has been failed by our so-called service providers, who effectively colluded in the destruction of our area.

We hope that this provides some clarification and we would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the CSG on your successful application for a Social & Voluntary grant, we would like to know how you intend to spend the €24,000 awarded to the CSG. 

Finally, please be advised that both the BWRA and the WGRA will not be participating with you in Pride of Place as we feel that this would send a false impression of unity and inclusiveness; these are issues that we should be highlighting and seeking to change, not pretending that they already exist.

Yours Sincerely

Matt Collins
Chairperson, Ballinacurra Weston Residents Alliance
087 65 77 063

Cathal McCarthy
PRO, Ballinacurra Weston Residents' Alliance
Cathaoirleach, Weston Gardens Residents' Association
087 784 50 70

cc: all our media contacts, City Councillors, Government TD's and the Minister for Environment.