Confusion in council chamber over vote on Irish Water motion

Mayo County Council took not one, but two votes on what appeared on the surface to be the same motion last Monday and ended up with two different results.

Sinn Féin councillor Rose Conway Walsh had a notice of motion down for debate on the agenda for the January meeting, which had been adjourned from the December meeting.  

Her motion stated, “That Mayo County Council calls on the Government to immediately reverse domestic water charges which are an unfair and unjust double charge being forced on already struggling households. Stop the roll out of metering and redirect the €539m loan finance from the National Pension Reserve Fund towards fixing the massive leakage problems and interruption to supply. Recognise that Irish Water is not fit for purpose since it is unaccountable to the Minister and therefore to the Oireachtas and the citizens of this State. Prevent Irish Water from any further excessive spending of taxpayers’ money, including the proposed further €35m on the use of external consultants in 2015 and the inexcusable bonus system. Oppose any duplication of services being delivered by Irish Water and Local Authorities and retain these services within full public ownership now and in the future. Listen to the widespread public anger that exists towards this Government and Irish Water by the Irish people, who are now rightly organising and mobilising in protest and opposition to these water charges through the Right2Water public campaign which includes activists, citizens, community groups, political parties and trade unions.”

At the December meeting, Fianna Fáil whip Al McDonnell proposed an amendment to the motion which was seconded by Cllr Brendan Mulroy. His amendment stated “That the Irish Government transfers the responsibility for the provision of water services to Mayo County Council and that until such time there is a satisfactory water supply to all households in Mayo, water charges should be suspended.” At the January meeting, Fianna Fáil Cllr Lisa Chambers put forward an addition to Cllr McDonnell’s amendment which read, “That the Irish government transfers the responsibility for the provision of water services to Mayo County Council and that until such time there is a satisfactory water supply to all households in Mayo, water charges should be suspended.” This addition was seconded, once again, by Cllr Brendan Mulroy.

Mayo County Council county secretary, John Condon, informed the meeting that Cllr McDonnell’s amendment along with the addition to it put forward by Cllr Chambers was a substitution to the initial motion put forward by Cllr Conway-Walsh and this was allowable.

Sinn Féin councillor Gerry Murray responded to the new motion saying: “We can’t support water charges now or at any time, that’s the road map to privatisation, the Lisbon Treaty has specific roadmaps to privitisation for any state activity that generates a revenue stream is up for grabs and is entitled to be privatised and as Cllr Chambers knows EU law transcends Irish law and is transposed into Irish law. We oppose water charges now and in the future, we can’t support the amendment as it supposes water charges some time in the future.” He also told the meeting that because of the Lisbon Treaty, having a referendum on keeping the water services in State ownership would not make a difference as the Treaty allows for the service to be privatised.

Fine Gael party whip Jarlath Munnelly spoke at the meeting on his party’s position in regard to the setting up of Irish Water and spoke against both the original motion and the amended one.

Before the amended motion was put to the floor for a vote, Independent councillor Michael Kilcoyne questioned the fact that the motion as it was worded did not specify Mayo and could be interpreted as Mayo County Council having to take charge of the entire water supply of the country. After he raised the issue, it was accepted that Mayo would be specified in the motion.

When the amendment to the motion was put to the floor the vote ended 13-13 (there were four councillors absent from meeting, Cllr Al McDonnell, Cllr Patsy O’Brien, Cllr Therese Ruane, and Cllr Michael Holmes ). Voting for the amendment were the nine Fianna Fáil councillors present and four independent  councillors, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne, Cllr Christy Hyland, Cllr Frank Durcan, and Cllr Richard Finn. Voting against the amendment were the nine Fine Gael and two Sinn Féin councillors in the chamber along with Independent councillors Seamus Weir and Gerry Ginty. With the vote ending in a tie, the casting vote went to the  Cathaoirleach Damien Ryan who had already voted in favour of the amendment motion and he did so again with his casting vote.

However, it transpired that vote was to accept the amendment to the motion not on the motion itself which caused much confusion in the chamber among the members, and there was much protestation from a number of councillors when they were asked to vote to accept the new amend motion on its own rights. When the vote was carried out the new motion was defeated by 13-11 with Independent councillors, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne and Cllr Christy Hyland abstaining from the vote. Cllr Kilcoyne told the Mayo Advertiser later in the week that he abstained from the second vote because it had become a “farce” and believed that there was a procedural error in how the issue of the motion and the amendments had been dealt with.


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