The old saying that the only thing a Fianna Failer hates more than a non-Fianna Failer is an ex-Fianna Failer was proven again this week (January 4 ), when three sitting members of Athlone Town Council turned on a former associate for daring to suggest savings in the forthcoming budget.
“I’ve had enough of your b******e,” swore Cllr Kevin (Boxer ) Moran (FF ), as he walked out of the Athlone Town Council’s first meeting of the year in a petulant protest against Cllr Sheila Buckley-Byrne’s (Ind ) suggestion to halve the Mayor’s allowance, abolish the deputy mayor’s allowances, and reduce councillor’s conference allowances.
Cllr Buckley Byrne is the sitting deputy mayor and has already refused to take up her €2,500 allowance.
“Cllr Buckley Byrne wants her name up in lights,” suggested Boxer after her three motions were made to the chamber.
“I think it’s a disgrace. Most of us around this table are self-employed and I think it’s very unfair for a new member to this chamber to come in here and tell us to remove our allowances.” (Of the nine councillors, five are self-employed. )
He went on to explain the importance of conferences to local councillors and how much more they learn about the trade at such events but then went back on the attack.
“Fine. You’re in a public sector job with all your allowances but you were greedy enough to take on seven or eight committees when you started,” said Cllr Moran. “If anyone thinks we’re earning too much, fine. Let them stand up in four years and two months time and put their name on the ballot sheet.”
Cllr Moran pointed out how the mayor’s allowance in Cork city was €97,000 and came with a car. The mayoral allowance in Athlone is presently €16,000, compared with €40,000 in Longford. “To diminish the power of the mayor of this town, Sheila, you have sunk to a new low,” said Cllr Moran before walking out.
He was immediately supported by his two party colleagues, Cllrs Aengus O’Rourke and Kieran Molloy.
“It was a cheap attempt at cheap headlines and it won’t save a lot of money,” said Cllr O’Rourke. “It’s certainly a cynical attempt to gain headlines. I understand that if she doesn’t fall out of bed with her Fine Gael partners, she’ll be mayor in July.”
Cllr Buckley-Byrne’s decision last May to tip the balance of power away from Fianna Fail for the first time in three councils, saw her promised the mayoral chain after Cllr Mark Cooney’s present tenure.
“If you don’t want your expenses, don’t use them,” Cllr O’Rourke said to Cllr Buckley-Byrne.
“The mayor serves a very important role for the town. To come in here and take a slash at the expenses is not constructive, not positive and serves no purpose.”
The third Fianna Fail councillor, Kieran Molloy, told the chamber he felt there was nothing wrong with motions seeking headlines but believed these were “insulting to the office of the mayor”.
“I know what the hours a mayor spends away will cost him,” said Cllr Molloy.
“The mayor of Athlone, the largest town in the Midlands, has a status. If you want to save €8,000, there are other ways in a town where the budget for the council representatives is €1.3m.”
Cllr Buckley-Byrne attempted a rebuttal but was interrupted by Cllr Moran’s expletive and exit.
“That’s typical of Fianna Fail,” she said.
“I didn’t come in here for headlines but to make some changes. I’m just saying that reducing the mayor’s allowance does not diminish the status of the office. It’s just, if everyone else is taking a hit, it’s unfair if we’re not seen to be taking a hit.”
The three motions were deferred to the pre-budget meeting of the councillors, held in camera last Tuesday (January 5 ), before it will be presented to the public in the Chamber next week.