Louth County Council Chief Executive Joan Martin says there is very little the local authority can do to encourage people to undertake social distancing when in public places as individuals, businesses and organisations across the country implement measures to halt the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking at Monday’s monthly meeting of Louth County Council – which the council say was held at the An Tain Arts Centre to accommodate appropriate social distancing measures for officials, councillors and media – Martin said that social distancing amongst the general public was a public health issue and not something that fell under the council’s remit.
In response to a number of queries regarding the use of playgrounds, parks, beaches and other communal areas over the weekend, the Chief Executive was unequivocal in her answer, stating that she is currently abiding by national guidelines as provided by the Department of Health.
“I don’t see us as being responsible for public health,” she said. “Maintaining social distancing is a public health issue. Our playgrounds are open because that is what we have been told to do. If we are told to do something different, that is what we will do.”
“Social distancing is somebody else’s responsibility,” she added.
To facilitate the statutory monthly meeting, it was moved from its usual location of the council chamber at County Hall to the theatre space at the An Tain on Crowe Street in Dundalk. At the meeting, a number of councillors spoke on the issue of social distancing.
Sinn Féin councillor Antoin Watters asked what actions the local authority could take to prevent a repeat of large crowds gathering at seaside locations such as Bettystown and Blackrock. He suggested, if not closing beaches, parks and playgrounds to the public, limiting the number of car parking spaces available to deter visitors.
His party colleague Edel Corrigan suggested more signage was required in public areas reminding people of their personal responsibilities to maintain social distance and to stay home as much as possible. Director of Services Catherine Duff confirmed the local authority had signage up but were looking into the improving the provision of Covid-19 related signage.
Independent councillor Jim Tenanty said, “We should be leading rather than waiting for advice.” He said there was no signage on display at the Fair Green playground in Ardee. “I would ask the council take a lead on this.”
“Everyone has a personal and social responsibility,” Dundalk South councillor Emma Coffey said. “Limiting car parking spaces will not stop people. People have to make the decision to turn around and walk away. We are not a nanny state. We implement national guidelines. Individuals have as much responsibility as organisations and state bodies.”
Currently, libraries, museums and sport facilities under the local authority’s control have been closed to the public but open-air outdoor spaces remain open.