4 November 2020
By Elaine Murphy
A Cork TD has received confirmation that the 2021 Tidy Towns competition will proceed. Cork East Labour TD Seán Sherlock was working late, as the Dail sat beyond midnight.
The issue of the future of the Tidy Towns Competition was raised by Deputy Sherlock as a Topical Issue in the Dáil:
“I welcome the Minister to the House tonight as it is a sign that she is giving this very important matter the recognition it deserves. I will speak to the future of the Tidy Towns competition. I submitted a parliamentary question to the Minister on 17 September asking if the Tidy Towns competition would be allowed to proceed in 2021 under the current social distancing and public health guidelines.
The Minister replied by saying the Tidy Towns competition has a unique place in Ireland’s culture and since its inception in 1958, when it had 52 entrants, the competition has grown year on year to see a record number of 924 entrants in 2019. Unfortunately, the 2020 SuperValu Tidy Towns competition had to be cancelled this year on public health grounds due to Covid-19. The work of the Tidy Towns committees is built on communities coming together and working together; in the position we found ourselves in this year, it would not have been possible for committees around the country to deliver their projects in the usual way.
The Minister acknowledges the importance of the competition. There are many committees throughout the country that want to continue if they can adhere to public health guidelines. They are seeking some solace from the Minister and the public health guidelines interpretation that there will be a competition next year. They are seeking the goodwill of the Government and the Minister so she might seek to do her very best to ensure the competition proceeds next year because of the importance of the competition. That is self-evident but if the committees had some words of comfort or a view on how the competition might proceed in 2021, it would give people a great lift in these times.
We know the character of the volunteers involved with the Tidy Towns competition and that there are many people who are semi-retired or retired who work on it. It is a competition that encourages young and older people to be involved. They just want some guidance and direction from the Minister. If it is in the affirmative, they would welcome such comment. Will the Minister work with the Tidy Towns competition in a way that will allow it to proceed in 2021? It would be a positive step on the part of the Government and for each of the committees involved.”
Responding to Deputy Sherlock, Minister Heather Humphreys said:
“I thank Deputy Sherlock for raising this matter. First, I say very clearly tonight that it is absolutely my intention that we will have a Tidy Towns competition in 2021. The SuperValu Tidy Towns has been in existence since 1958, as Deputy Sherlock notes, and it has become an integral part of our culture over the intervening years. The competition continues to grow in popularity and in 2019, a record 924 entries were received. The competition was just ready to be launched earlier this year when Covid-19 arrived. Unfortunately, like many other events that we hold dear, the competition did not proceed in 2020 as a result of the pandemic.
This decision was taken in line with public health advice and in collaboration with the competition sponsor, SuperValu. This decision was made in April during the first period of severe restrictions, when essentially the advice to everybody was to stay at home. Many of our Tidy Towns volunteers and adjudicators were very limited in what they could do earlier in the year. However, as we have moved through different stages of living alongside the pandemic, the Tidy Towns volunteers have demonstrated that they can continue to do some of their activities while still following all of the necessary public health precautions.
My Department is in regular contact with the close to 1,000 Tidy Towns groups around the country and we are hearing of some wonderful projects and community-wide initiatives that have been delivered in recent months. Indeed, many of our Tidy Towns groups have also been instrumental in assisting with the community response to Covid-19. Many of the projects being delivered this year feature in the monthly Tidy Towns newsletter that the groups themselves contribute to and which my Department issues through our social media channels.
The interest in the newsletter demonstrates how popular the competition continues to be and the level of work that continues, even in the absence of a formal competition this year. As we look forward to next year, I assure the Deputy and the House that there will be a Tidy Towns competition in 2021. We may need to alter and adapt our approach to delivering the competition next year given the on-going constraints posed by Covid-19 but we can retain the ethos of the competition that has stood the test of time so well.
My Department is currently considering the format the competition could take next year, having regard to restrictions on gatherings at each of the five levels of the Government’s Plan for Living with Covid-19 and the paramount need to protect the health and well-being of volunteers and adjudicators. The details of any changes in the competition will be shared with the Tidy Towns groups well in advance. I assure the Tidy Towns groups and the thousands of volunteers that my Department and the Government is absolutely committed to the Tidy Towns competition and we look forward to encouraging more towns and villages to join us in future years.”
“I am grateful to the Minister for her reply and it was worth staying up this late just to hear such an assertive and affirmative reply from the Minister. There is no ambiguity from the Minister about the future of the competition in 2021 and the more than 924 applicants that will be there will be delighted with the news. It is a very genuine competition and the people involved are the salt of the Earth. They do so much for their community and it is such a valuable competition. I acknowledge the role of SuperValu in the sponsorship in brings along with the State intervention. Its impact is enormous and in the midst of Covid-19, the social value of this competition is highlighted even more.This is a very positive response from the Minister and all the volunteers will be delighted. It will lead to yet further enhancement of our communities across the State and I sincerely welcome the Minister’s reply. I welcome the fact that it was so unambiguous and direct. On this night of the US election, it is worth getting an answer like that at 11.50 p.m. It is rare that one gets a positive answer when putting down a Topical Issue coming up to midnight. This is a very positive response and I thank the Minister sincerely for it.”