Clara is on ‘life support’ says local councillor
The long time Clara resident was speaking weeks before the town's last remaining bank branch closes early October. Clara's Bank of Ireland branch is closing its doors for the last time on October 8, along with branches in Banagher and Edenderry.
Cllr Smollen says that the bank's closure is just the latest setback to hit the town in the last few decades.
“There will be no bank left in Clara now. People will either have to go to the post office or to Tullamore. It's a bit crazy but there seems to be very little objection to it. Not a whole lot is being said by our TDs and senators in the midlands. It's up to these people to stand up for local people.
“The town of Clara is being decimated. I am waiting for a report from Offaly County Council on the derelict and abandoned buildings in both Clara and Tullamore.
“In Clara, in particular, there are so many buildings that are very obviously vacant and dangerous even. With the closure of the Bank of Ireland it's not going to improve anything. The people of Clara are decent people and they deserve far better than the way they are being treated,” he said.
Cllr Smollen says that while “something has to be done” to reverse the town's fortunes, he is not in favour of the proposal to turn the building currently housing the bank into a hub for remote workers.
“I know there are talks about using the Bank of Ireland building for a hub with hot desks. In my opinion that is dreamland stuff. The working public is used to going to work. They are either going to go to their ordinary place of work or they are going to work from home. I don't see a future where a building in Clara will be full of desks where people will be working remotely from there. It might be something for ten years down the line but I don't see it as a solution now.”
“There are plenty of other things that are necessary in the region. I was speaking to a guard about a family who escaped a domestic violence situation and are basically homeless. They went to a local garda station and the guards didn't know where to send these people.
“We need a place of refuge for people who are coming from situations like this. Maybe the Bank of Ireland could be considered for something like that. It is a large enough building. We need sensible solutions. To my mind sensible solutions don't include working hubs and I can see if that happens the building will be half or three quarters empty,” he said.
Clara was a “thriving” place 40 years ago, Cllr Smollen says, but today “it is a town on a life support machine”.
“People might think that I am creating political ammunition but I am not. Anyone can see it. If men or women want to buy underwear they have to go to Tullamore or Athlone. There are a loads of takeaway in the centre of the town but there is nothing practical. If people want a battery for their watch they have to go to Athlone or Tullamore."
Cllr Smollen says that Clara's demise has been slow and steady over many years.
“Nothing has been done for years. This hasn't happened overnight. Clara doesn't have facilities for children to play. It doesn't have a community centre. We have different sporting groups trying to work with the likes of the GAA to use their facilities but that is only on a temporary basis.
“Clara has really gone downhill and there is nothing to keep people in the town. That's the unfortunate thing and now we have the Bank of Ireland branch closing as well. That will add further to the deterioration of the town itself. The only reason people would be in Clara is if they are driving from Moate to Tullamore. There is no reason to stop and that urgently needs to be addressed.
Despite the problems facing Clara, Cllr Smollen says that the community spirit in the town remains strong.
“You couldn't meet more decent people anywhere. The community element is very strong. People look out for each other and watch each other's backs. They deserve far better than they have been given the last 20 or 30 years,” Cllr Smollen says.