It was not a day when our local politicians covered themselves in glory. A debate on where some elected members of the Galway County Council would sit in the newly refurbished council chamber was succinctly summed up by Republican Sinn Féin representative, Tomas O Curraoin, who labelled the whole matter a joke, and likened the behaviour of some councillors to small children. "If kids were in junior infants, they would be arguing about where they were sitting," he said
The impressive new chamber - which cost more than €450,000 - has proved to be extremely controversial, with a number of councillors being highly critical of the cost of the refurbishment. The renovations took place due to the number of county councillors increasing from 30 to 39 in the last local election. The original chamber was not big enough to facilitate this number of people, and health and safety conditions dictated it be increased in size.
But the controversy did not end there, as when the new room was revealed, members of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin were unhappy with the seating arrangements. Some councillors believed the two main parties should be sitting opposite each other - which would have been the traditional layout in the old chamber. A proposal was made by Fianna Fáil's Michael Connolly that his party members sit one side towards the top end of the chamber, while Fine Gael's Jimmy McClearn made a proposal on behalf of his party concerning the seating on the opposite side.
It appears seats one to three at the top of the chamber are the issue. At Wednesday's meeting these spots were taken up by Fianna Fáil's Michael Connolly, Sean O'Tuairisg and Seamas Walsh but members of Sinn Féin wished to sit in these seats.
The problems arose due to a request from Sinn Féin councillor Gabe Cronnelly that he be allowed sit as the top of the chamber alongside party colleagues Dermot Connolly and Tom Healy. Cllr Cronnelly spoke about issues with his prosthetic leg and a need to sit in a seat with extra space. "Where I am sitting is putting pressure on my hip and back, it is just for my own comfort." It was pointed out by Fianna Fáil's Seamus Walsh that there was no extra space in the top seat. Councillor Michael Connolly said he was happy to vacate the top chair to accommodate Councillor Cronnelly but not the other two chairs. Sinn Féin's Tom Healy made inference to one councillor ''sitting outside the chamber since 6.30am to secure his seat. The whole thing is ridiculous."Meeting administrator Michael Owens said each seat needed to be assigned to a councillor to facilitate the new electronic voting system. He said Councillor Gabe Cronnolly's chair could be adjusted to accomodate him.
Renua councillor James Charity said it was 'disgraceful' to see this type of behaviour in the chamber, while Independent councillor Jim Cuddy labelled the whole debate 'farcical' and fellow Independent Thomas Welby said councillors were 'making a laughing stock of themselves'. Tuam representative Sean Canney pointed out that the council meeting had been ongoing for two hours and no business had yet been attended to. ''We should be ashamed of ourselves," he said.
After considerable debate, Fianna Fail councillor Malachy Noone proposed that the seating arrangement be maintained for the remainder of the meeting and the matter deferred, to be agreed and voted on at a later date. It was inferred that the discussion needed to take place without members of the local press present. Councillor Noone said ''with all due respect to the press, they don't always get everything right." Councillor Michael Finnerty later called for Cllr Noone's comment about the media to be withdrawn.