Since the outbreak of the Corona-virus in Ireland, and as the country responds to the COVID19 pandemic, Kerry County Council, as the local government authority for Kerry, has been actively involved in the response to the crisis.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is the lead agency in responding to any public health emergency and the council’s response and approach has been guided by a strong ambition to support the HSE response and that of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in their response to the situation.
The Current Emergency
Throughout the current emergency, the central aim of the local authority has been to do all in its power to help to limit the spread of the Corona-virus and to contribute effectively to the national effort to ‘flatten the curve.’
The following is an update of the council’s response to the crisis thus far:
Re-Opening Society and Business
In accordance with the measures identified under Phase 1 of the Roadmap published by Government, with effect from 18 May 2020, Kerry County Council has: • Re-commenced the delivery of the roadworks programme on a gradual and phased basis, with almost €51m committed in grant aid • Reopened all our outdoor amenities, including beach car parks, with limited exceptions, allowing people to use the facilities to exercise, but subject to users complying with the current 5km travel restriction • Commenced a review of all Council offices to prepare for the phased reopening of public counters / in-person customer services (including Motor Tax and Cash Offices), with the Planning Unit being reopened for public access from Monday, 25 May, most likely through an appointment-based process to ensure social distancing can be maintained. Further details in relation to these arrangements will be announced. • Continued to review all our operations to ensure compliance with the Government Protocols on working safely for the protection of staff and the public The increased measures required under the Government protocol, to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace are extensive but necessary. The protocols are a collaborative effort by the Health & Safety Authority (H.S.A.), the Health Service Executive (H.S.E.) and the Department of Health. The H.S.A. has been tasked with monitoring compliance nationally and taking enforcement action where necessary. The Council has assigned resources to assist in the implementation of the required additional measures and to monitor compliance by staff. The council’s enforcement officers will be overseeing the measures put in place at our amenities, which will be subject to review and amendment as required. A coordinated response has been developed with An Garda Síochána on enforcing Government regulations in relation to public health requirement at these locations.
Economic Response to COVID-19
Kerry County Council’s Economic Recovery Team and two supporting sub-committees are coordinating the provision of advice and assistance to key sectors of the Kerry economy and supporting and informing initiatives to secure the local economic recovery as the COVID-19 restrictions continue to be eased. Among the initiatives already in place or being advanced over the coming weeks are:
Plans for the Weeks Ahead
• Promoting and marketing Kerry as a safe place to work and do business • Promoting and marketing Kerry as a safe place to visit when restrictions are eased • Development of a ‘Safe Destination’ programme to attract domestic tourists • Development of ‘Discover Your County’ programme to support the hospitality industry • A dedicate freephone helpline for businesses seeking advice and supports • Local Enterprise Office advice on financial and other supports • Bespoke COVID-19 compliance training programmes for hospitality/retail sectors in conjunction with Kerry Education and Training Board and IT Tralee • A new online directory of services and businesses which are re-opening or trading online • Development of #KerryOpenForBusiness and #ShopLocal campaigns • Work on physical planning in towns and destinations to ensure social distancing and support the reopening of businesses over the coming months • Investment in capital developments including North Kerry and Tralee-Fenit greenways, other infrastructural improvements and urban and rural enhancements
Economic Impact on the County
Kerry County Council will be announcing details of these and other initiatives in the coming weeks. This work will be informed by the report which the council published last week on the economic impact of the corona-virus on the county.
Kerry – A Safe Destination
With the gradual reopening of the retail and commercial sector, the council’s COVID-19 Project Team is examining measures that may need to be put in place in the larger towns and villages to promote social distancing and assist local businesses in reopening.
The development of these measures will involve extensive consultation with the business community and other agencies.
Kerry County Council is also working closely with the tourism and retail business sectors in partnership with Kerry Education Training Board and IT Tralee in developing a safe destination training programme for the county as these businesses reopen and to ensure that staff are trained with the necessary skills when businesses re-open over the coming months.
Business Re-start Grant Programme
The Government has launched a Re-Start Grant Programme as a contribution towards the cost of re-opening or keeping a business operational, and reconnecting with employees and customers. The grant can be used to defray ongoing fixed costs, e.g. utilities, insurance, refurbishment or for measures to ensure employee and customer safety.
The grant will be the amount of a business’ rates assessment for 2019 (excluding arrears), subject to a minimum of €2,000 and a maximum of €10,000.
Applications for the grants will be made via local authority websites. A standardised application form and FAQ document for all local authorities is being developed, with applications to be made online through the Council’s website. The details of the grant programme / application process are awaited by the council.
Community Support and Response
The Community Support Freephone Helpline has, to date, received over 1,850 calls for assistance. The number of calls directly to the helpline have reduced marginally.
Indications are that that relationships built between the community and local response agencies have endured.
This has resulted in individuals seeking assistance making contact directly with local agencies in preference to ringing the community helpline.
The majority of calls over the past week relate to (a) collection and delivery of medicines, food and basic necessities, and (b) advice and information.
Community Well-being Initiatives
As part of the national ‘In This Together’ programme, the Council is preparing a number of initiatives under the national themes of Stay Connected, Stay Fit and Active, and Mental Wellbeing throughout the Covid-19 Emergency.
At a local level, a programme of activities will be rolled out over the coming weeks led by the Community Department with input from; the Healthy Kerry Programme, Kerry Public Participation Network, Kerry Age Friendly Programme, Kerry Recreation and Sports Partnership, Kerry Library and the Kerry Museum.
These activities can be pursued at home, or in the locality within the Government restrictions, by individuals or with family members, or with friends online. There are ideas and activities for people of all ages and the aim is support people in Kerry to stay physically active, stay connected with friends and family and to look after mental wellbeing. Further details will be announced in the coming weeks.
COVID-19 Emergency Fund
The closing date for applications under the COVID-19 Emergency Fund grant programme for community and voluntary groups was Wednesday 6 May. Over 50 applications have been received. It is intended that funding offers in relation to this grant will be made next week.
Planning and Development / Planning Timescales
A further extension of the time period for processing planning applications has been put in place by the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, adding a further 14 days to the previous extension in place.
The three ministerial orders thereby have the combined effect of extending the relevant planning periods and timelines by an aggregate of 56 days/8 weeks, up to and including the 23 May 2020. This will result in a significant number of planning applications being due for issue during the last week in June/first week in July.
Extended Time Frame
The extended time frame also applies to the review of statutory plans.
These include the commencement of the Kerry County Development Plan, the completion of Variation of the Listowel Town Plan and the Listowel Municipal District Local Area Plan, and the preparation of the Dingle Electoral Area Local Area Plan and the East Iveragh Local Area Plan.
Construction Works / Hours of Operation
Phase 1 of the Roadmap allows for the phased return of outdoor workers including workers in the construction sector in accordance with Return to Work Safely Protocols taking account of public health, as well as health and safety, advice. Circular letter PL 06/2020 provides for discretion for Planning Authorities in respect of certain specific planning conditions related to hours of operation of certain essential activities on a temporary basis – up to 9 November 2020 – during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic in relation to construction working hours.
This will assist the splitting of shifts to allow for separating trades and activities required to achieve physical distancing on construction sites.