Rowdy city councillors to be hit in pocket if they disrupt meetings
By Kernan Andrews
Unruly councillors whose behaviour causes city council meetings to be abandoned, look set to be hit in the pocket with new proposals designed to strip disruptive politicians of their allowance and privileges.
The proposal, made by Fianna Fáil councillor Peter Keane, will see councillors docked pay and allowances if they persist in causing disruption or refuse to apologise for their behaviour when asked to do so by the Mayor.
The proposal comes in the wake of the forced abandonment of council meetings owing to unruly behaviour. It will be discussed and voted on at Monday’s city council meeting and Cllr Keane is confident he has the numbers to see it passed, despite misgivings in some quarters.
Cllr Keane is adamant that the proposal is not targeting any particular individual.
“This is not a gagging order against anybody, it is a way of focusing minds,” he told the Galway Advertiser. “I know the emotions that can arise in the chamber and how serious debates can be, but there is a Rubicon, a red line beyond which the behaviour becomes intimidatory and insulting. When you cross that line there must be sanctions.”
Cllr Keane’s proposal is an amendment to the current standing orders which govern how city council meetings are run, principally standing order 42, which allows the Mayor to suspend or abandon a meeting if a councillor is being disruptive.
“The standing orders provide no sanctions and they must be given teeth,” said Cllr Keane. “Since being elected in 2009, I have witnessed meetings having to be abandoned on a number of occasions and there has been a fundamental lack of respect for the chairperson.”
The proposal, if accepted by councillors, would only come into effect after other avenues have been exhausted. There must first be unruly behaviour; a councillor must propose that the offender by expelled/excluded from the debate; the Mayor can then adjourn the meeting for a time; and the offending councillor must be given a chance to apologise or withdraw the offending remarks.
If no apology or withdrawal comes after these steps, then all privileges, services, and remuneration will be withdrawn from the offender. In effect, council officials would not be obliged to deal with the councillor, and the councillor would not receive his/her fortnightly allowance or be able to claim expenses.
The suspension would continue until such time as the disruptive member purges his/her contempt to the city council.
Cllr Keane put forward his proposal at a meeting of City Hall’s procedures committee last Friday where it passed, although not unanimously. Some concern has been expressed whether it is legal under the Local Government Act, but Cllr Keane feels it is.
“The council meeting are being held up to ridicule for the manner in which they are conducted,” he said. “It is unacceptable that meetings are forced to be abandoned due to the unruly behaviour of a few. Unfortunately the council will continue to be held to ransom until such time as legislative provisions are introduced to change this situation.”