Tensions heighten over councils’ plans to purchase Imperial Hotel

Political tensions are heightening over the decision by two local authorities to purchase the derelict Imperial Hotel in Castlebar. Fine Gael Minister of State Michael Ring has responded angrily to Labour town councillor Harry Barrett who told the Westport deputy last week to “butt out” of the Imperial Hotel purchase in Castlebar, which has become the centre of political wrangling.

He advised his Castlebar critics to “grow up and live in the real world”, but suggested that Cllr Barrett, a public sector worker, “wouldn’t understand”.

With the county council announcing 152 job losses a few days after it said it would spend €800,000 on purchasing the historic Castlebar hotel in conjunction with the local town council, there has been much public debate about the rights and wrongs of this decision.

Upon hearing the news Minister of State Ring called for a departmental examination of the decision of the two authorities to purchase the derelict building, given that the county council is €10 million in debt. However his intervention has angered both Councillor Harry Barrett and Castlebar Mayor Ger Deere who support the purchase of the Imperial.

“How dare Cllr Barrett tell me to keep out of Castlebar business,” Minister of State Ring told the Mayo Advertiser this week. He reminded the Labour man that he received more than 13,000 votes in the General Election, about 10 per cent of those in the county town where his party leader swept the boards, and that while he was an elected representative for the county he would work for all corners of the county.

He asked Cllr Barrett if he was “living in the real world”, adding that it was pure lunacy spending €800,000 at a time the council is €10 million in debt and laying off workers. It is the opinion of Minister of State Ring, an auctioneer by profession, that the final cost for the Imperial purchase will come in at €1 million when auctioneer and solicitor fees are taken into consideration.

“We have people in business not able to pay rates, taxes, and hardly able to keep their businesses going and the taxpayer won’t be able to keep them in employment,” he told Cllr Barrett. “People can’t pay their mortgages. Special needs assistants are losing their jobs. We are depending on the IMF to keep us going on a day to day basis,” Minister of State Ring continued. “Does the county council and Cllr Barrett realise it’s the taxpayer of Europe who are keeping us running on a daily basis?

“That’s what’s gotten this country into trouble — people spending and borrowing money they don’t have to pay back and that’s what the council are at now.”

According to Minister of State Ring as long as he has a mandate he “won’t be told to stay out of the business of this county. It’s a democracy after all.” Referring to Cllr Barrett he said: “Himself and others in Castlebar might not understand that.”

The Westport TD vowed to continue to speak on behalf of the electorate when there is “outrage in this county over this situation”.

The county council is to meet this morning (Friday ) to discussed the proposed 152 job cuts.

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