The inside story of the city council budget

An inside look at local politics – from the pens of the politicians themselves

Now that the back slapping is over and political kudos have been gained by politicians across the board for a most courageous, progressive, budget in recessionary times maybe it is appropriate at this stage to ask some pertinent questions as to the political intricacies of its birth, formulation, and delivery.

It was assumed by many councillors that the present pact between Labour-Fine Gael-Green/ Independent would lead the Budget as was the case for the previous two years, but as it turned out, that never transpired, leading to an amalgamation of Labour-Fianna Fail-Green/Independent.

Insider understands that the present pact dissolved when Fine Gael seemed to snub Labour and was spotted doing so. FG was found to be in consultation with city manager Joe MacGrath and the Galway City Council’s director of finance on the draft budget in the company of Independent Cllr Declan McDonnell.

Councillors Cameron and Costello deemed this a major faux-pas on FG’s behalf and a snub to Labour. The loose alliance was dead in the water and future partners had to be courted with only a few days left to budget day.

Labour was aware that Cllr Danny Callanan was working away quietly on figures and as Cllr Callanan himself does not tolerate “voodoo economics”, decided to make contact.

Insider must point out that it has been sadly neglected in both the press and radio that the ex-Sinn Féiner was one of the main architects of the budget and deserves immense credit along with Cllr Cameron, Cllr McDonnell, and FG’s Cllr Brian Walsh.

Callanan was understood to be in a ruthless mood with regard to the manager’s proposals, so Labour realised it had a like-minded partner and by engaging with him, it would also send out a message to FG that Labour was not to be taken for granted and was willing to work with any grouping within the council to attain a common goal, in the interest of the common good, based on mutual respect and integrity.

On the Saturday prior to the budget, Cllr Callanan, Cllr Cameron, and Independent Cllr Terry O’Flaherty met in Hotel Meyrick to iron out some figures and consult as to who to approach to come on board.

It was at this meeting that it was decided to pay the €1.1 million for the Volvo Race over a two year period on the suggestion of Cllr Cameron in order to save €550,000 and give the group some leverage.

The Galway Arts Festival grant, the overall arts grants, and arts programme grant were proposed and accepted as part of the package. When prompted by Cllr Callanan as to what project deserved support above all others, Cllr O’Flaherty and Cllr Cameron sang in unison and €70,000 was immediately ring fenced for homelessness.

It was also agreed that daily parking of €6 proposed by the manager would be cut to €5 and hourly on street be cut from €2.80 to €2.60. The emerging ‘Rainbow’ now had a proposal to engage with others. It was time to make phone calls.

It was at the Menlo Park Hotel on Sunday night that the ‘Rainbow’ thought they would have a document finalised. The meeting was attended by all three Labour councillors, Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael J Crowe, Independents Callanan, O’Flaherty, and Lyons, and Green Cllr Niall Ó Brolcháin.

The meeting heard new proposals from Cllr Crowe and Cllr Costello. Cllr Crowe requested on behalf of Cllr John Connolly - who had a motion before council - regarding sports grants, that a precedent in this budget and that councillors should ring fence a substantial figure for sports clubs. From that €70,000 was agreed on.

The wily Cllr Costello demanded that ordinary householders be rewarded in their efforts in re-cycling by going against the manager’s proposals of increasing the grey and green bin by three cent per kilo. It was agreed unanimously and the prices remained static. It was also agreed that an average payment by business in respect to water charges over the years 2007-2008 of 99c to jump to €1.70 would be too much - particularly for the bars, restaurants, and hotels - so a figure between €1.50-€1.60 was agreed on.

The commercial rates - always the centre point of any budget - was hovering at one per cent/1.5 per cent increase within the ‘Rainbow’ but on Monday December 8 Cllr Callanan, being in a ruthless mood, suggested no rise at all.

What ensued was the manager gathering hold of this information and before the budget meeting took place. Sense prevailed and after some hours of discussions an amicable meeting of the two camps took place in Room 48 of City Hall.

The final figures and a record low of a one per cent rise in rates were settled upon and a creative budget emerged through eventual co-operation and creative thinking by the two groups involved.

Not a panacea for all the ills of the city in tough times but it does go the distance in attempting to alleviate some hardship on all sections of society. Management showing leadership in foregoing bonuses and councillors in foregoing half their conference expenses. Pain shared by all!

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