Before Cllr Joe Mellett had even handed over the Cathaoirleach’s chain to incoming Cathaoirleach for the next 12 months, Cllr John Cribben, independent Castlebar based Cllr Frank Durcan fired his first warning shot across the bows of the new council. Cllr Durcan told the meeting, “In the interests of transparency and accountability, I would call that the salaries of the Cathaoirleach, the leas Cathaoirleach and all the committee chairpersons be given to the general public”. Cllr Durcan’s call was seconded by fellow independent Cllr Gerry Ginty from Ballina.
Later on during the meeting when the different positions on different committees and groups were being handed out, Cllr Durcan also had a swipe at the appointment of outgoing Cathaoirleach Joe Mellett to the Local Authority Members Association saying, “All you do is go up for one meeting a year and have the dinner and then collect your expenses, what good is that to the public?”
The expenses paid to councillors was one of the cornerstones of Cllr Durcan’s re-election campaign to the council earlier this month, however there were plenty of other members of the council who were critical of the outspoken Castlebar auctioneer. Fianna Fáil’s Al McDonnell told the meeting, “I don’t mind showing our expenses, I have nothing to hide. There are many councillors here who are losing money because they are members of the council and have to miss work because of it”.
Independent Cllr Michael Holmes told the meeting that since he has been elected to the council he has actually lost money and had to use income from his own job to subsidise his work as a councillor. “For the past five years I have had to use income from my own farming and other business to subsidise my work as a councillor,” he said. “I don’t believe anybody is in this for the financial gain, if they are they are in the wrong house. Being in politics may have cost me money but I have no regrets about it at all.”
Fine Gael’s Cllr Seamus Weir was very forthright in defence of the expenses claimed by councillors. “I have no problem with expenses being published, but what I have a problem with is that it was not explained to the people what these expenses were going on. Nobody gets money for nothing.” Cllr Weir was angry about media attention he got when it was revealed that he was paid €58,128 for expenses in 2008. Cllr Weir was the Cathaoirleach for the first six months of that year and the hectic schedule of events that one has to attend when Cathaoirleach was born out by outgoing Cathaoirleach Joe Mellett, who told the meeting he had attended 361 engagements as Cathaoirleach over the past 12 months.
Sinn Féin and Independents form technical group
Three independent councillors and the two Sinn Féin representatives on Mayo County Council have come together to form a technical grouping in the council. The group consists of Independent councillors Michael Kilcoyne, Richard Finn, and Michael Holmes, along with Sinn Féin councillors Gerry Murray and Rose Conway Walsh. The five councillor-strong grouping were able to get their members appointed to a number of committees at the meeting which were being handed out at the council AGM, at the expense of nominees put forward by Fine Gael.
The grouping, however, was one body short in being big enough to claim the chairperson of one of the six strategic policy committees that were being decided on the day. Eddie Staunton was appointed chairperson of the housing SPC for three years, with John Cribben for the last two. The Roads SPC will be chaired by Jarlath Munnelly for three years and Gerry Murray for two, Eugene Lavin will oversee the water SPC for three years, with Tom Connolly the last two, and the planning and development SPC will be chaired by Michelle Mulherin for three years with newcomer Eugene McCormack taking up the last two years as chairperson. Peter Flynn was handed the chair of the environment SPC for the full five-year term, while Al McDonnell will be the sole Fianna Fáil chair of a committee on the cultural SPC for the full term of the council.