Council should be able to hire local solicitors

A Mullingar councillor has hit out at Westmeath County Council for failing to employ local solicitors.

Fianna Fáil’s Aidan Davitt said it galls him to see business leave the town, after it recently emerged that a Limerick firm has been appointed to carry out some of the council’s legal work.

He said he noticed this when he was checking through the manager’s orders that councillors sign off on.

While the council collects rates from local solicitors, those firms don’t get the council’s business, he said, and his party colleague Paddy Hill agreed, saying it saddens him that the council is governed by central government and EU rules which mean the council must go to public tender for legal contracts.

“Travelling around the county we find the finest of small contractors from all walks of life who can’t get a job with Westmeath County Council,” he said, adding that people are angry about this.

“People from Northern Ireland and elsewhere are taking up all the jobs and the locals can’t get them,” he said, describing it as “a sad day” for local governance.

When he started in politics 40 years ago, people could get the small jobs that mean so much to them, he said.

Speaking at the April meeting of Westmeath County Council, county manager Pat Gallagher said the contracting process is out of his hands.

Because local authorities are public bodies, they are obliged to follow public procurement rules, he said, adding that the local government audit carried out a couple of years ago was particularly critical of how local authorities avoided public procurement.

Since then Westmeath County Council has had a number of submissions for tenders for legal work and a number of legal firms are appointed.

It’s up to any qualified legal firm to apply, he said, adding that another public competition will launch shortly and it too will be open to all firms.

Because the council operates in a free market for goods and services, it can do nothing to favour any firm because of its geographical location, he said.

The rules are set by the Government and the council has to comply, he said.

But Cllr Davitt wasn’t happy with the answer.

He wanted to know how the council can put a value on local knowledge and accessibility.

“It doesn’t make sense that a firm from Limerick is attending us,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting he said he wasn’t aware of any firms in the town of Mullingar who were providing legal services to local authorities elsewhere in the country.

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