The war of words between Labour and Fine Gael looks set to continue as Labour, the largest party on the Galway City Council, finds itself outside the new mayoral pact and policy drive in City Hall.
In the recent Local Elections, Labour won five seats in City Hall - the party’s all-time best showing. Many expected Labour to be the leading party in the council chamber for the next five years. Also, given that it is widely assumed the next government will be Fine Gael and Labour, a new mayoral pact involving the two parties in Galway seemed obvious.
However, on the Saturday of the count, there was talk that neither side was interested in doing business with the other - owing, it was suspected, to personality clashes between certain councillors in each party. Nonetheless both sides agreed to meet that weekend to discuss options.
Fine Gael however reacted badly to Labour meeting with the Independent councillors Terry O’Flaherty, Declan McDonnell, and Donal Lyons. FG felt Labour should have met it first and relations deteriorated from then on.
The major warning sign came when Cllr O’Flaherty said she could not do business with any party that did not support the Salthill Airshow and the Galway City Outer Bypass - items of which Labour have been critical.
After that Fine Gael moved to deal with the Independents and Fianna Fáil, putting together a nine person alliance that secures all three groups the mayoralty for the next five years and allows them a measure of influence in shaping what issues come before them at council meetings.
Labour is understood to be bitterly disappointed at finding itself the largest party in City Hall while being outside the pact. Cllr Derek Nolan spelled out the reasons for Labour’s frustrations at Monday’s city council meeting.
“The pact agreed to here today by Fine Gael and the Independent PDs is nothing short of a betrayal of the electorate,” he said. “It will reward with political power, policy influence, and prestige a Fianna Fáil party which they actively campaigned against on the doorstep, and whose unpopularity they used to garner support for themselves. Fine Gael in particular have reneged on the promise of their party leader Enda Kenny, not to do business with Fianna Fáil.”
He accused Fine Gael of having “one-sidedly broke-off good faith negotiations in order to cement a quick deal which will see no changes, will fasten the status quo, and reject and dismiss the electorate” and of “spreading mistruths about false Labour party demands”.
However Fine Gael councillor Brian Walsh described as “hypocrisy” Labour’s reaction to the new pact.
“We were hoping to do a deal with Labour but they had other ideas,” he told the Galway Advertiser. “They ignored the good relations we had with them for the past five years and approached other councillors first. They offered Cllr Terry O’Flaherty a mayoralty before they even met Fine Gael. Clearly they were trying to exclude us from the very start.
“Labour is now critical of Fine Gael for entering into this new pact when they themselves were more than happy to enter similar arrangements. The voters of Galway city have not been betrayed by Fine Gael. This new, nine-member pact includes eight of the highest vote getters in the city.”