Isn’t it about time we sent the Galway city councillors on a junket — no, not to far flung places from whence rich pickings of expenses can be plundered, but out the door of City Hall and around the Square to Prospect Hill where if they attend a meeting of their cousins in the County Council, they may be able to learn a thing or two about manners, arrogance and about how not to lose the run of themselves.
Once again this week, the manner in which the meetings (not the policies ), are run has become a national laughing stock. The mainstay of last Monday’s meeting, (the rezoning element of the City Development Plan ) had already come about because an earlier farce in which rows, unruliness, and insults had led to a situation in which a vitally important piece of city policy was put in jeopardy.
The previous meeting to Monday’s was dominated about whether members of a coalition would seemingly back one another for office without getting an apology after having their honour and integrity questioned, and then on Monday, came the latest episode from this sitcom.
The city councillors this year have already been referred to as “sheep out a gate” by one of their own, but after Monday’s episode, it is the public who are being treated like sheep, being asked to believe an incredible story constructed by some in order to stay “right on” with all.
The meeting was being asked to consider a request by some of the Independent presidential candidates for just a few minutes of their time to hear their pitch. This is a ludicrous process which is an insult to the office, by freezing out candidates and by making them beg for airtime in front of partisan councillors.
However, up and down the country, the requests were agreed to in the main. The County Council has already heard from some. There is nobody asking for a commitment to vote. All the candidates ask is the right to be heard, which is a fair request.
Galway City Council had already agreed to this process and on Monday was actually hearing from one candidate, and dealing with a request to hear from another. In the course of this debate, it emerged that another request, from Senator David Norris had been sent to the Council some time back but that no reply had been given. Rude or what? The debate went on for some time, so there was no excuse for not knowing what was going on. Everyone in the room, councillors, media, onlookers, officials was aware that was was being requested was an opportunity to address the council. It was not looking for a nomination.
However, the decisiveness with which Sen Norris’s request was dealt with had many in the room asking, what was this about? Surely, no matter whether or not you supported the man, at least it would do no harm to hear him speak. Labour and Fine Gael have their own candidates already so would not be expected to support him in the long run, but to be fair, Labour agreed to hear his case, and so the matter went to a vote. It went 7-7, and the Mayor (who had already voted against ) had the casting vote which she decisively said would be for denying Norris the right to speak.
Every councillor knew what they were doing, and the result of the vote was tweeted within minutes. Our Facebook page, which covers the meetings as live through tweets and posts on Facebook was inundated with expressions of indignation. The decision was not warmly welcomed on the streets of Galway, a sentiment which the Mayor must have realised and experienced when she left to attend another function that evening. Within an hour, she was on national TV and radio saying that she had made a mistake and had thought the vote was to nominate Norris and not just to let him speak. This was news to everyone in the Chamber as all were very clear that she had known what she was voting for. I do not think that our Mayor would have a difficulty comprehending what was going on, and so I and many others are not buying that story.
There is a deep unease at what lies behind the decision to deny Norris. Councillors may feel they have the right to block his appearance, but they should remember these rights are not rights, but privileges lent to them by us, the public, . who voted them in and who no longer have an appetite for being treated like sheep.