The general upkeep and management of public graveyards in Mayo is so poor that people are having to ask local representatives to advise them where to place the bodies of loved ones within the burial plot while one graveyard near Westport is filling up so fast, people will soon end up having to be buried 'on the side of the road'.
A discussion on the matter was initiated by Achill-based councillor Paul McNamara at the recent Westport-Belmullet Municipal District monthly meeting, where he told members that the situation was so serious he was now being approached by family members for direction on where to place the bodies of loved ones in a plot, even though "it's not for me to tell a family you can or can’t bury someone here or there".
Several councillors noted that they were asked each year to contribute monies from their individual General Municipal Allocation (GMA ) in order to fund upkeep work at various graveyards and questioned why this was so, when it was work that should fall to the council in its oversight of public graveyards.
Calling on Mayo County Council to sort out the situation, Cllr Paul McNamara stated: "I want to know how much revenue from graveyards Mayo County Council has taken in. It is ridiculous what’s happening. People are being charged about €750 for a plot and for councillors to be expected to provide General Municipal Allocation (GMA ) money for the upkeep of graveyards is ridiculous. Some are private graveyards but 80% of them are in the charge of Mayo County Council.
"Another problem is where people who were looking after a plot before, a Mayo County Council representative would be available to meet with them to advise on how to arrange the burial site, but three of these representatives have now retired and there is no one available. So in Achill these queries are now coming to me, as people have no confirmation on how their loved ones should be laid out, and are asking me how they should do it. We will have graves on the top, the bottom and all over because of this. Mayo County Council is getting the money, €750 for each grave is a lot at the end of the year; so where is the money being spent? At the moment it is me who makes the decision on this, I do my best, but it's very awkward, its not for me to tell a family you can or can’t bury here or there."
Cllr Sean Carey said there was also an issue in local area graveyards where a family might need a triple plot but will not be granted one unless it is designated as a special case for this purpose by the environment section in the council. He said: "I believe it should be available and granted when requested; also Fahy graveyard in Ballycroy, the road leading to it; at a recent funeral I spoke with a lot of locals who are very concerned about the condition it is in; there are large holes in the road going in and then a later section is also very bad. This is a public road leading to a graveyard. When I made enquiries, I was told it's not a council road so cannot be taken in charge. It is very difficult for a hearse to get in the road in this state. It is not fair that such a road is not taken in charge by the council. We have to respect the dead and have proper access into burial grounds for people visiting graves."
He added that in relation to an extension due for the Ballycroy main graveyard that had been 'promised for years' - "nothing is happening and there is not much room left in it as it is. The ground there where the extension is planned has to be knocked out and taken in charge as the whole development itself will take some time. I ask Mayo County Council to provide an update at our next meeting on when this work will start. It will take time to get this in order and it has to be started now to be ready for when it’s needed."
Cllr Johnny O'Malley stated: "The graveyard is there, the council owns it, but the road going into it is private. If the people that own the road decided they didn’t want someone buried there, then they could; how does the council get in then - other than with a helicopter? So I can’t understand why they didn’t take in that road.
"Also, Myna graveyard in Kilmeena - I asked for funding to expand that before as it is filling up fast; we will end up burying people on the side of the road. Five different committees have come to me for GMA funding for their graveyards - I think this is something the council should be doing. The Fahy graveyard also is an absolute disgrace, there is grass, weeds and holes in it and the surrounding area, it's just terrible. I think we have to make a concerted effort with the council to ensure funding is available for the upkeep of graveyards."
Head of Westport-Belmullet Municipal District, Padraig Walsh, responded: "I know you’ve asked for the head of the environment department to talk at next month's meeting; regarding burial grounds, where there is no caretaker in place, I know the head of environment is looking to appoint caretakers to those grounds; there is a capital investment programme every year that allows works to take place and the head of environment draws up a priority list and funds are allocated their turn."