Acrimonious and bitter allegations of “underhand” and “sneaky” behaviour has erupted between the centre-right political groups in City Hall, ahead of tomorrow’s first meeting of the new council.
Fianna Fáil whip Michael J Crowe has accused the Independent ex-PDs of reneging upon commitments that would have given a FF/FG/ex-PD pact control the council for the next five years.
The accusations have received a fierce rebuke from councillors Declan McDonnell and Pádraig Conneely who in turn said FF was seeking to do deals with other councillors, while still in negotiation with FG and the ex-PDs.
The controversy arose following the Sunday night agreement reached by Fine Gael, Labour, and the ex-PDs which will see them rotate the mayoralty in City Hall.
Under the new pact Independent Donal Lyons will become mayor at the first council meeting tomorrow afternoon; followed by Fine Gael’s Frank Fahy in 2015; Independent Noel Larkin in 2016; Fine Gael’s Pearce Flannery in 2017; and Labour’s Niall McNelis in 2018.
FF believed it would form part of the pact, not Labour, given that prior to the election, it was understood an informal agreement that the FF/FG/ex-PD pact, which operated in the previous council, would continue. However this was never officially agreed upon by the three groups.
Talks to formally agree a pact began after the local elections. Cllr Crowe says he was contacted by councillors Conneely and Lyons to discuss renewing the pact and believed that by last Friday a deal was concluded, with an agreement that all would sign up to it formally on Monday. However on that day, Cllr Crowe was told FG and the ex-PDs had agreed a pact with Labour.
Cllr Ollie Crowe described this as “a betrayal of the electorate unparalleled in the history of Galway city local elections”, given Labour’s heavy losses in the May 23 poll.
This led his brother to send an angry email to Cllr Declan McDonnell, citing his “absolute disgust at the manner in which you and your colleagues have treated us”. The email states, “our issue is not our being excluded from the pact”, but rather that FF had not been told the other groups would be proceeding with a new arrangement.
In a forthright email response, Cllr McDonnell said he was “disappointed with the tone and content” of Cllr Crowe’s email, and accused the FF man of having “negotiated with others behind our backs”.
In the email, Cllr McDonnell referred to last Friday’s meeting, saying he asked Cllr Crowe if he had “any contact with anyone outside the group, which you denied. Yet we know you spoke and met with Cllr Cubbard” about “possible participation in an alternative pact”.
Councillors McDonnell and Conneely also said Cllr Crowe made “four attempts” to reach newly elected Cllr Noel Larkin to “arrange a meeting for Saturday night or early Sunday morning”.
Both men also drew attention to public comments by Cllr Ollie Crowe about being willing to explore forming a mayoral pact with Sinn Féin.
“Fine Gael was forced to conclude Fianna Fáil were attempting to arrange an alternative pact involving independent councillors and possibly Sinn Féin,” said Cllr Conneely. “We therefore pressed to act swiftly to protect our own position and began fresh negotiations with other members.”
Cllr McDonnell agreed, saying: “It was Fianna Fáil’s own moves to form a pact with another group that prompted Fine Gael to pursue alternative arrangements.”
While Fine Gael HQ did issue a recommendation that FG councillors include Labour in any pact, it was not binding. New councillors Pearce Flannery and John Walsh were already keen for a such an alliance to take place.
Cllr Crowe though, said Cllr McDonnell and Cllr Conneely’s claims are incorrect. He told the Galway Advertiser that both councillors Cubbard and Larkin contacted him directly, not the other way around, and that he told both he could not meet as he was in negociations with FG and the ex-PDs.