Four Castlebar town councillors who did not attend any conferences in 2011, according to the latest available figures, voted against an €11,000 allocation in this year’s budget for funding attendance at conferences.
By the slimmest of margins the members of Castlebar Town Council voted by five votes to four to keep the €11,000 allocation at the annual budget meeting this week. The issue was put to a vote at the end of the budget meeting on Tuesday following a proposal by Sinn Féin councillor Therese Ruane, who proposed that the money be diverted into the amenities budget which would go towards local sporting, cultural, and community groups.
In the vote Fine Gael councillors Brendan Henaghan and Eugene McCormack, Labour councillor Harry Barrett, Fianna Fáil councillor Blackie Gavin, and Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne all voted to retain the allocation in the budget.
Joining Cllr Ruane in voting against keeping the allocation was Fine Gael councillors Ger Deere and Noreen Heston and Independent councillor Frank Durcan.
Cllr Ruane in her submission asked: “Can we just put a hold on conference expenses in the town council for the last 18 months of the council and put the money into the amenity grants for the town? There is €11,000 put aside for conferences this year and I’m appealing that we divert it towards the amenity grants.”
Cllr Ruane’s proposal was seconded by Fine Gael councillor Noreen Heston who said: “I’m anti-conference and travel allowances for them, I don’t support them at all.” Meanwhile Cllr Deere informed the meeting: “I’ve never claimed to attended a conference at all.”
In the most recent payments to the members of Castlebar Town Council which were published by the council, the four councillors who voted against keeping the money for conferences in the budget made no claim for conferences expenses in 2011. The figures revel that Cllr Blackie Gavin claimed €2,142.36, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne claimed €985.79, Cllr Harry Barrett claimed €471.67, Cllr Eugene McCormack claimed €1,347.49, and Cllr Brendan Heneghan made a claim of €463.83 for conference expenses, travel, and subsistence allowances.
Speaking later in the week to the Mayo Advertiser, Cllr Ruane said: “I just felt that as a gesture for the last 18 months of this council we should give this money to these groups. In the grand scheme of things it’s not a huge amount of money but for a sporting club or a community group a portion of that could mean a huge deal to them.”
“I’m disappointed that we didn’t get enough support for it to pass,” Cllr Ruane said of her proposal. “There were four of us who voted for it and for the length that is left in the life of the council it would have been a good gesture to give this money back to the people.”
Cllr Ger Deere told the Advertiser yesterday: “I’ve no problem with conferences per se, some of them can be very beneficial, but I just think that if a councillor wants to go to a conference they could pay for it themselves or at the least car pool if there is a number of them going to it. I’ve gone to one conference since I was elected a few years ago and I paid for it myself.”
Meanwhile Cllr Frank Durcan told this paper: “In 41 years as a councillor I went to one conference only, many years ago in Dun Laoghaire, and I paid for it out of my own pocket.”