Controversy continues over proposed cost of new county council chamber

The substantial cost of renovating Galway County Council’s public chamber was raised again at this week’s local authority meeting. It is estimated the work which is currently under way at County Buildings will cost in the region of €450,000. It had initially been estimated that the extension and upgrade works would cost substantially less at around €200,000.

 Earlier this year nine new councillors were elected to represent areas of County Galway following the local elections. Health and safety requirements meant there was a need for further space in the chamber to facilitate the new personnel. Athenry-Oranmore Electoral area councillor James Charity has been extremely critical of the development, previously labelling it “outrageous”.

At Monday’s meeting, Ardrahan native councillor Michael Fahy - who was part of the previous council which gave the development the green light staunchly defended the works. “The extension is about democracy. This chamber will be here for generations to come - there are people who are not even born yet who will work in this chamber.’’ Councillor Fahy was very unhappy with Councillor Charity’s stance on the issue. “Even if the extension costs €500,000, it is providing employment to young people across the county. Isn’t it better than sending them off to Canada or Australia to work? I have no apologies to make to anyone about this. I am very happy with the extension plans.’’

Councillor Charity replied saying; “Be it on road improvements or cemetery extensions, could they not have spent the money on anything else, which would have also provided employment for young people.’’ He was also again critical that nine new councillors had been elected at a substantial cost to the taxpayer, claiming they cost €50,000 each on top of their salaries this year if the chamber extension is to cost €450,000.

New Fianna Fáil councillor Martina Kinane said she would be very upset to think she personally cost the taxpayer €50,000. Fine Gael’s Jimmy McClearn referenced the fact that monthly council meetings and other local authority business are now being conducted at numerous locations around the county while renovations are ongoing. ‘’We [councillors] are travelling around like nomadic people and the sooner we have somewhere to call home, the better. We made the best decision at the time in good faith, in the interest of the council.’’ Ballinasloe-based Michael Finnerty commented; ‘’If you cannot look after yourself and your own needs, how can you look after the needs of the people you are serving?’’

Council CEO Kevin Kelly outlined changes that were made by the local authority to various leasing arrangements would result in savings of €300,000 a year which meant that the new development will pay for itself within two years.

Councillor Charity later tried to pass a motion which would mean that full information must be disclosed to councillors prior to any future commitment by council executives to engage in exceptional expenditure of more than €100,000. This motion was debated at length in the chamber. A number of representatives spoke about the relationship between councillors and officials being based on trust and respect and it working well. Councillors said they would always be in favour of utmost transparency regarding the disclosure of information about any expenditure of public money. However ultimately it was decided the motion was too restrictive. Gort councillor Gerry Finnerty said as a company manager himself he opposed it. “The CEO has to be given some freedom to make decisions in the best interest of the council. Every little decision cannot be going before a committee.’’

Tuam-based Sean Canney was also against the proposal. ‘’It would add another layer of bureaucracy. Let’s have a bit of common sense, we need to get on with our business as councillors and work in tandem with directors. We have enough paperwork as it is.’’ The motion was defeated 25 votes to 8.

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