Take Two — controversial re-vote on City Development Plan might be held Monday

Former Fianna Fáil councillor Micheal O h-Uiginn

Former Fianna Fáil councillor Micheal O h-Uiginn

A High Court judge has directed that Galway’s 15 city councillors must re-take a vote on a controversial proposal in the Galway City Development Plan, within the next four weeks.

Mr Justice George Birmingham said all councillors should re-take the vote on a material amendment to the plan which seeks to re-zone a retail-commercial area on the Rahoon/Seamus Quirke Road into a designated district centre.

Councillors must take the vote by Monday July 11. No date has been set yet for the vote, but it has been speculated that it could take place either at this Monday’s city council meeting or else that a special meeting will be created for the vote.

Part of the lands at Rahoon are owned by former Fianna Fáil councillor and Galway City mayor Micheál Ó hÚiginn. He made submissions, as part of the development plan review, in support of a district centre designation to facilitate the development of a Tesco outlet. However the council voted in January to reject the amendment.

As a result Mr Ó hÚiginn brought High Court proceedings against the council over the manner in which the vote was exercised.

The vote was held after a row earlier in the meeting between Mayor Michael J Crowe and Independent councillor Catherine Connolly.

The Mayor considered remarks made by her to be offensive and her demanded she leave the meeting. Councillors voted by seven to five, with three abstentions, that she should leave. However Cllr Connolly refused to do so, prompting the Mayor to leave the meeting, requiring the deputy mayor to take over the chair.

The vote on the Rahoon lands was tied at seven-seven but, with the casting vote of the deputy mayor, the motion to designate them as a district centre was defeated.

However Mr Ó hÚiginn claimed Cllr Connolly was required, under the council’s standing orders to leave and, had she done so, the vote would have been in his favour. As a result he sought orders overturning the vote relating to his lands and orders providing for a district centre designation or, alternatively, an order requiring the council to retake the vote in accordance with its standing orders.

This week Mr Justice Birmingham ordered that a new vote take place. However he said he did not believe other councillors had waived their earlier decision that Cllr Connolly should leave but rather were of the view they should get on with the meeting.

He indicated Cllr Connolly could participate at the meeting to reconsider the vote and he awarded two-thirds of the costs of the proceedings to Mr Ó hÚiginn.

Responding to the judgment, Cllr Connolly has welcomed the decision to allow the vote come back before councillors and that she can also partake in that vote.

“The proposal by the developer has always been rejected by the planners and the city manager on a number of grounds,” she said, “including that the proposed development would threaten the viability of existing shops, frustrate half-built schemes advancing further, and detract from the role of the city centre.”

She said it is now up to city councillors “to make a decision based on the common good” when the matter comes back before them.

Speaking to the Galway Advertiser, Mr Ó hÚiginn said he also welcomes the judge’s decision to allow the matter go back for a vote.

“I hope that now it can be considered in isolation from the 150 or so other submissions to the development plan that were also being voted on at the time,” he said. “I hope that councillors will vote using their reason and see that this is a derelict site and why not develop it, use its potential, and let’s complete Westside.”

He also said that building the Tesco store and car park on the area would not “de-nude the city centre”.

At Tuesday’s High Court sitting, Mr Justice George Birmingham said all 15 members of the council should retake, by July 11, their votes on a material amendment to the plan that would designate lands at Westside retail-commercial area as a district centre. The council had voted to reject that amendment.

Part of those lands at Rahoon are owned by former Fianna Fáil councillor Micheal O h-Uiginn, who made submissions as part of the development plan review in support of a district centre designation. He hopes designation will facilitate the development of a Tesco outlet.

Following last January’s vote rejecting the district centre designation, he brought High Court proceedings against the council over the manner in which the vote was exercised.

The vote was held after a row earlier in the meeting between the mayor (Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Crowe ) and Independent Cllr Catherine Connolly.

The mayor considered remarks made by Cllr Connolly offensive and sought to have her leave the meeting.

The councillors voted by seven votes to five, with three abstentions, that she should leave the meeting.

She did not leave but the mayor did, after which the deputy mayor took over the chair.

The vote on the Rahoon lands was tied at 7/7 but, with the casting vote of the deputy mayor, the motion to designate them as a district centre was defeated.

Mr O h-Uiginn claimed Cllr Connolly was required, under the council’s standing orders to leave and, had she done so, the vote would have been in his favour.

Mr O h-Uiginn, Taylor’s Hill, Galway, and his company, T O’hUiginn Comhlucht Teoranta, sought orders overturning the vote relating to his lands.

He also sought orders providing for a district centre designation or, alternatively, an order requiring the council to retake the vote in accordance with its standing orders.

On Tuesday, following legal argument, Mr Justice Birmingham said he wanted a new vote to take place on the amendment and knew all councillors would cast their votes “in good conscience”.

The question of who could vote on the matter was fundamental to the validity of any decision and therefore the outcome of the meeting was irregular, he said.

He did not believe other councillors had effectively waived their earlier decision that Cllr Connolly should leave but rather were of the view they should get on with the meeting.

He also indicated Cllr Connolly could participate at the meeting to reconsider the vote.

He said she had only been asked to leave the January meeting, not any other.

He awarded two-thirds of the costs of the proceedings to Mr O hUiginn.

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