A close to three year absence from local politics came to an end on Monday afternoon for Athlone native, Paul Hogan, as he was successfully co-opted to fill the casual vacancy in the Westmeath County Council chamber.
The returning Independent Councillor secured the seat with a 12 votes to 6 success over Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, who had been nominated to fill the local authority void by his son, Jamie Moran, upon his decision to depart the council chamber earlier this month.
Speaking following his election, the Independent Councillor who lost his seat in the 2019 local elections, stated that he was “overwhelmed” with the support received upon his return to the local authority chamber.
“I am overwhelmed by the level of support which I have received here today and I commend the council executive for the courtesy afforded to me at all times during this process.
“The number of candidates who expressed an interest in this casual vacancy is indicative of the democratic process and bodes positively for the future of local politics.
“I am looking forward to my return to the council chamber and with numerous challenges to address, I will endeavour to give of my best during my term of office - I will be an active team member offering a strong independent voice within the council,” Cllr Hogan enthused.
Traditionally, a nominee put forward for council co-option is elected unopposed, but on this occasion, there were five nominations for the casual vacancy and with six elected representative nominations secured, both Paul Hogan and Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran progressed to the virtually hosted vote on Monday afternoon.
A contentious co-option process, Hogan was proposed by Fianna Fáil Councillor, John Shaw, who noted the candidate to be a man of “integrity who would address issues of importance and be an effective representative for the people of Athlone”. His proposal was seconded by political party colleague, Cllr Aoife Davitt.
Independent Councillor, Mick Dollard, proposed Moran for the vacant seat in the interest of “openness and fairness”.
“I have been a public representative for 37 years and during this time a number of vacancies have arisen in the council chamber. The co-option precedent in place always allowed for the candidate nominated to fill the vacant seat without incident which should remain the case in this instance,” Cllr Dollard asserted.
His thoughts were firmly supported by Labour Party Councillor, Denis Leonard, who noted that the “ramifications of the process undertaken to fill the vacant seat in the council would have an impact for decades to come”.
“It is my view that having secured the required six nominations to fill the vacant seat, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran should be co-opted today without the need for a vote to take place.
“Our standing orders appear to be quite vague in this regard and as it appears this process can only be seen as a ‘power grab’ by the dominant party within the council chamber.
“When Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran vacated his council seat in 2016, his nominated replacement, Ailish McManus, was co-opted unopposed so I do not understand why we are having a vote to choose Cllr Jamie Moran’s successor. What happened in 2016 must be replicated.
“I cannot understand why Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran is not an acceptable candidate for this casual vacancy - what more experience should we expect him to have?,” Cllr Leonard remarked.
Westmeath County Council CEO, Mr Pat Gallagher, repeatedly informed Councillors that the casual vacancy process was governed by Section 19 of the Local Government Act 2001 as amended, and Standing Order 15, of the council’s procedure - this allows for the local authority to fill the vacancy with a person the members deem suitable and eligible for the role, providing they meet the relevant requirements and eligibility criteria.
The Fianna Fáil council contingent voted en-masse to support Cllr Hogan’s election to the casual vacancy and their votes were supplemented by Fine Gael Councillor, Andrew Duncan and the Green Party duo of Cllr Louise Heavin and Cllr Hazel Smyth.
Affording their voting support for Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran were Fine Gael Councillors, Tom Farrell, John Dolan and Frank McDermott, Labour Party elected representatives, Cllr Denis Leonard and Cllr Johnny Penrose and Independent Councillor, Mick Dollard.