Council to examine request for shelter at Portnashangan
After holding out for some time, Westmeath County Council has agreed to examine the feasibility of providing a shelter for swimmers at Portnashangan.
There was across-the-board support for the proposal by the mayor, Cllr Aoife Davitt, at last week’s meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad calling for provision of a shelter for year-round swimmers at the Diving Board.
The written response to Cllr Davitt’s proposal was not encouraging, stating that two former shelters were demolished due to anti-social behaviour at that location and that there are no current plans to install a shelter.
“Space is limited and any plans would be subject to environmental considerations as this proposal is in an SAC,” the response concluded.
Cllr Davitt wasn’t prepared to let the matter go.
She conceded that in the past there had been antisocial behaviour: “But now,” she said, “there is actually a community there who have come together.
“From five o’clock in the morning nearly, there are people who are out there swimming. They have a very active club. They’re renowned at this point and people from across the county and across the island actually come to Portnashangan to participate in all year round swimming.”
Cllr Davitt said she had met the swimmers there, and they needed somewhere to put their possessions, and she did not accept that space is limited.
She said they were not looking for anything extreme or fancy: just something that would suit somebody quickly changing and hoarding bags.
Stating that she had raised this on several occasions in the past, the mayor expressed her disappointment at the lack of progress.
“I just can’t understand that we are still stumbling over this,” she stated.
Support came from Cllr Emily Wallace, who said the swimmers were merely seeking something that would keep their clothes and their bags dry. She found it ironic that in the “Lake County” this was being turned down and that the council was not proactively engaging with the group.
Cllr Wallace said she was aware of the antisocial behaviour there had been there and of the radical steps that had to be taken to stop that.
“But this is 2021: there are other ways of designing shelters that do not have to be completely enclosed that provide adequate shelter,” she said.
Cllr Hazel Smyth too supported the motion and agreed with Cllr Wallace’s point that it did not need to be a fully-enclosed shelter, stating thy could consider something perhaps similar to what is at the Forty Foot.
Cllr Smyth added that she noticed from personal experience from paddle-boarding there that it is an exposed location for changing, being right on the main road. For that reason, she was suggesting also that trees be planted along the road.
Cllr Frank McDermott said there has to be a way of securing people’s property, and he fully supported the call.
Responding, director of services Deirdre Reilly said based on the views expressed, she felt it would be appropriate to do a feasibility study, examining if something could be provided that did not encourage antisocial behaviour.
She urged members to bear in mind however that there is no funding in place for such a proposal at present and that there would be “considerable considerations” in relation to the SAC aspect.
The issue of littering at Portnashangan was raised at the same meeting by Cllr Andrew Duncan.
“The predominant issue was the amount of people that were out there during the hot summer,” Cllr Duncan said, asking that provision be made for measures to tackle litter whenever there is an upsurge in numbers using the lakes.
The official response to Cllr Duncan’s request stated that the issue could be considered by the anti-litter sub-committee.