The move of the switchboard for Athlone Town Council to Mullingar in recent weeks has led to fears among councillors that the council’s services are slowly being moved to Mullingar.
As of two weeks ago, customers calling the main number for Athlone Town Council are having their calls answered in County Buildings in Mullingar, before being redirected to the relevant department in Athlone.
Cllr Gabrielle McFadden said she hadn’t been informed of the move and only discovered when she rang Athlone Town Council recently.
“There seems to be a hint of things being moved to Mullingar and we are not being told. I feel we were blatantly disrespected. We should know what’s going on and the people of the town are entitled to know,” she said, speaking at Tuesday’s Athlone Area meeting.
Cllr Tom Allen said he was also surprised recently to call the council number and discover he was speaking to someone in Mullingar.
Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said Mr O’Reilly and the town clerk Pat Keating, who are both based in Mullingar, should be in a position to enlighten councillors.
“The last thing I want is to come into this building and talk to you, director, on a screen from Mullingar... Please put on an Athlone hat and stick up for the people of Athlone,” he implored.
“This building cost a lot of money and since last Christmas we can see staff dwindling and under increased pressure. We need a meeting to give us some indication of what way things are going to be split up. I don’t want Athlone to become a sub-office like Kilbeggan or Coole, and we all know what happened them, they are closed now.”
Cllr Frankie Keena pointed out that come the local elections next May, there will be just seven councillors in Athlone while there will be 13 between the Mullingar-Coole and Mullingar-Kilbeggan areas.
Director of services Hugh O’Reilly explained that the switchboard was moved to Mullingar for “efficiency reasons”, but that direct lines will still get you directly through to the Athlone office. There hadn’t been any reduction in staff levels, he added.
“There are no plans drawn up yet for how the municipal districts will operate. Over the coming months the council will be developing proposals and examining staff structures to undertake the functions as envisaged in the new legislation.”
He added that any information he receives will be brought to councillors’ attention in the future.
“It is not our intention to move significant staff to Mullingar. We have an investment here in the town in terms of the building; Athlone is a significant town and we need staff here,” he added.