Legal advice sinks motion on ‘unruly councillors’

Attempts to silence or punish councillors guilty of disrupting meetings and causing them to be abandoned has been dealt a “severe blow”, following legal advice.

In February, Fianna Fáil councillor Peter Keane brought forward a motion seeking to have councillors’ pay docked and allowances suspended if they persisted in causing disruption or refused to apologise for their behaviour when asked to do so by the Mayor.

The motion was supported by a majority of councillors but Labour’s Tom Costello and Nuala Nolan warned against support on the basis that it would run into legal difficulties.

On March 28 councillors received a letter from city manager Joe O’Neill, that following legal advice from Blake & Kenny solicitors, there was “no statutory power in the local government code which enables the elected council to suspend the remuneration or privileges of a council member or to direct that services be withdrawn”.

In a letter to Mr O’Neill from Blake & Kenny, the motion actually “interferes with councillors’ Constitutional rights to earn a livelihood and also interferes

with democratic representation” and is “outside the permitted scope of standing orders which can be made by the council”.

However the letter went on to state that “consideration may be given to excluding councillors from the chamber” by reasonable force of trespass, by security or the gardaí, “where they refuse to leave the meeting when ordered to do so”.

Fine Gael councillor Pádraig Conneely has welcomed the verdict, claiming it delivers a “severe blow” to the motion.

“This motion was designed to silence me as senior management do not like the tone or content of my combative questioning,” said Cllr Conneely. “I strongly opposed the motion on the grounds that it was not legally sound but my concerns were met with deafening silence.”

Cllr Conneely was also critical of Mr O’Neill for allowing the motion to have proceeded given the concerns that had been raised.

“Mr O’Neill has serious questions to answer for allowing such a motion to be brought forward,” he said. “He has an obligation to advise the elected members on the legality of any motion.”

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