‘Like children in a playground’ — More heated scenes over filling of vacancies on committees

“Like children in a playground” is how Mayor of Galway Frank Fahy summed up the arguments between councillors over the filling of casual vacancies on a number of committees this week.

The row over who should replace Dep Catherine Connolly on various committees and bodies continued on Monday, with Cllr Colette Connolly, who was co-opted to the council seat left vacant by Dep Connolly’s election to the Dáil, ultimately losing out in a vote on the remaining vacancies to members of the council’s ruling pact.

Last week’s Galway City Council meeting was adjourned early following comments made to the Mayor by Cllr Ollie Crowe, who this week apologised and withdrew the remarks.

The council subsequently sought legal advice on the filling of casual vacancies, which was circulated to councillors this week. On foot of that advice councillors voted on an appointment to the joint policing committee, which went to Cllr Billy Cameron, and the HSE regional health forum, which was filled by Cllr Niall McNelis.

Cllr Connolly was voted on to the transport and environment, recreation, and amenity SPCs last week, but lost out to a challenge from Cllr Padraig Conneely for the position on the Corrib Navigation Trustees.

It emerged this week that Cllr Connolly had received a letter from the city council advising her not only of her co-option but of her placement on the committees, including the HSE’s regional health forum and the Corrib Navigation Trustees. Cllr Connolly had been attending the committee meetings on foot of this letter before the vacancies were brought before the council for a vote.

Cllr Connolly also questioned the legal advice furnished to the council on the matter, stating that while there was no provision in the Local Government Act 2001 for the filling of casual vacancies on committees, there was a stipulation that local authorities promote gender balance when making such appointments.

Both director of services Joe O’Neill and chief executive Brendan McGrath apologised for the letter, which they said had been sent in error.

“That letter was issued in error and I would like to publicly apologise to Cllr Connolly as it was an error,” Mr O’Neill said. “I also apologise to other members because it doesn’t help with the clarity of the situation, but it was issued in error. We have to comply with the law and the decision rests with the council.”

Several councillors expressed their disappointment in the manner in which the vacancies were being dealt with. “I would always have felt that there was a sort of unwritten rule that the person who was co-opted also took the place of the councillor they were replacing on the various committees,” said Cllr Peter Keane. “I’m sort of disappointed at the manner in which it was done.”

Cllr Cathal Ó Chonchúir, meanwhile, said he was “extremely disappointed at what seems to be a vexatious attack on Cllr Connolly since she has entered the chamber.”

Once the positions were voted on, two motions came before the council, requesting that Cllr Connolly pay for the legal advice sought by the council at the previous meeting, and that she withdraw a comment in which she referred to the council as “misogynistic”, a term which Cllr Padraig Conneely described as “like the ‘N’ word used by Gerry Adams”.

Both motions were deferred until councillors have the opportunity to examine the minutes of last week’s meeting.

“Between this meeting and the last meeting it’s like children in a playground,” Mayor Fahy told the meeting as it drew to a close, “and we’re damn poor value to the taxpayer that’s paying our wages.”

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