Christmas lights on the Town Bridge over the Shannon in Athlone

Cost of Athlone Christmas lights is “over €40,000”

Members of Athlone Moate Municipal District were told at their November meeting last week that the annual cost of the Christmas lights in Athlone is now “over €40,000.”

The figure was given to the meeting by Director of Services Barry Kehoe, after a number of councillors expressed reservations about the scale of the allocation to Athlone from the annual Christmas Lights Grant Scheme.

The total budget for the scheme across the Athlone Moate Municipal District this year is €30,000 and the Council Executive recommended to members that the Athlone Festival & Events Project Group be allocated €19,177.50 for lighting up the town this Christmas.

Mr Kehoe acknowledged that the budget for Christmas lights across the municipal district “is not near enough” but he reminded members that Athlone is the primary town and, as such, there is an onus on the local authority to ensure that it is well lit up in time for the busy Christmas shopping period. “We might as well cancel Christmas if we don't have lights,” he remarked.

He said the Community Section of the council had “gone through all the applications” for this year's grants scheme, and was recommending that Athlone receive the bulk of this year's allocation. He added that the budget is due to be “substantially increased next year” but did not give any figures to the meeting.

Cllr Liam McDaniel was one of a number of councillors to express his dissatisfaction with the allocations, and said he “could not agree with a proposal to give 64% of the lights allocation to just one urban area.” He said it was obvious that the smaller towns and villages were “not getting their fair share” and expressed incredulity that two areas had actually looked for “less than what they were allocated last year, and unbelievably that is all they were given too”, he said.

The two areas Cllr McDaniel was referring to are Ballymore which was awarded €500 last year but only sought €300 this year, and Castledaly Development which was awarded €600 last year but only applied for €500 this year.

Cllr McDaniel said the draft allocation for Kilbeggan this year is €1,150, the same as last year, but it costs “up to €10,000” for the Christmas lights and the Tidy Towns organisation has to fundraise to make up the shortfall. Kilbeggan Tidy Towns applied for €10,500 this year.

“I couldn't agree more with Cllr McDaniel about the imbalance in these allocations,” said Cllr Vinny McCormack, who expressed the hope that an increased budge for the Christmas Lights Grant Scheme for 2024 will result in other small towns across the district being “given a guarantee” that their allocations will be increased.

While Cllr Tom Farrell also agreed that there was “inequality” in the allocations for this year, he said he was prepared to accept that “every area can't get the same allocation” given the fact that the entire budget is just €30,000. He also paid tribute to the many volunteers who work so hard to ensure that towns and villages across Westmeath are lit up for the festive season. “If we didn't have the volunteers there would be no lights,” he added.

“If we were allocated €200,000 for Christmas lights we would probably spend it all,” remarked Cllr John Dolan.

Barry Kehoe pointed out that the standards for Christmas lights has “changed over the years” and he expressed doubts as to whether the public actually realise how expensive it is to “put up, maintain and take down” the annual Christmas lights display in towns and villages across the district. “It is a very expensive undertaking,” he said.

Kilbeggan and Moate were each allocated €1,500 for their Christmas lights this year, with the vast majority of the other areas who submitted applications receiving sums ranging from €500 to €300.