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‘It was absolutely shameful’

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'BUDGET WAS UNAMIMOUS' Cllr Brendan Mulroy, Fianna Fáil.
Cathaoirleach accused of showing party bias at council budget meeting


Anton McNulty

A SINN Féin councillor left a meeting of Mayo County Council in protest after claiming the Cathaoirleach’s handling of the recent annual budget meeting was shameful and disgraceful.
Veteran county councillor Gerry Murray shocked council colleagues at yesterday’s (Monday) monthly meeting of Mayo County Council, walking out following an attack on the Council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Brendan Mulroy (FF).
At last week’s budget meeting, Cllr Mulroy refused a request by Cllr Patsy O’Brien (FG) for a short adjournment of the budget meeting before the Fianna Fáil and Independent-backed budget was passed.

‘Affiliations’
Raising the matter at yesterday’s meeting Cllr Murray took exception to Cllr Mulroy’s stewardship of the budget meeting, describing the Westport-based councillors decision not to grant the adjournment as ‘shameful’.
“I have to say it was disgraceful that you did not make that concession. Never before has any Cathaoirleach in the last 20 years of estimates refused to adjourn to allow a counterproposal to be put. I think that when your are up there, you should leave your affiliations down here.
“It is protocol and convention. It might not be in the standing orders, but I have to say I was taken aback and genuinely shocked and gobsmacked that you weren’t prepared to concede. I want to register my protests to your stewardship of the estimates meeting. It was absolutely shameful,” said the Charlestown-based representative.
Cllr Mulroy defended his decision not to concede to an adjournment, saying it was clear that there was no counterproposal to be put before the meeting.
“I asked five times for a counterproposal from any side of the house. Cllr [Damien] Ryan [Fianna Fáil] had proposed a budget, and I could have gone straight to a vote. Out of sheer decency I didn’t do that. I asked on five different occasions for a counterproposal, at which stage I would have adjourned proceedings for both budgets to be looked at. [With] no budget forthcoming, I decided to proceed, and it was agreed. As far as I am concerned the budget was unanimous,” he replied.

Walk out
A discussion continued with both sides of the chamber exchanging barbs, but the fiery exchanges had not finished between Cllr Murray and Cllr Mulroy.
“It was the first time in 20 years for a Cathaoirleach to refuse an adjournment, and it was a disgraceful performance by yourself … it was you who let the people of the county down, that is the bottom line,” said Cllr Murray, which led to the Cathaoirleach threatening to adjourn the meeting unless he received an apology.
“Well I’ll solve the problem for you and will withdraw from the meeting,” was Cllr Murray’s response and as he left the chamber, Cllr Mulroy retorted, “By the way you have six more months to put up with me [as Cathaoirleach of the chamber].”
The Fianna Fáil and Independent-brokered budget introduced a commercial rate hike of 4 percent over the next two years, while there was no cut in the councillors’ General Municipal Allocation (GMA) allocation.

‘Clandestine’
Cllr Murray’s criticism of the handling of the budget was supported by a number of Fine Gael councillors, who said the request for the adjournment should have been granted. They claimed that they were not privy to figures obtained by the Fianna Fáil and Independent group and needed to consider them before presenting an alternative budget.
“We had a draft proposal but on the figures thrown to us from Cllr Ryan were far different from what we had and there was no way we could come up with a set figure without an adjournment. I asked for an adjournment and we should have been given time to discuss it when we had a draft budget in place. We could not present it because we did not have the figures you were privy to,” claimed Cllr O’Brien.
Fine Gael councillor Jarlath Munnelly described the process of the council meeting as ‘clandestine’ but this was dismissed by both Fianna Fáil and Independent councillors, who said they had worked for three weeks on the budget they submitted.
“The process was completely transparent and above board,” claimed Cllr Damien Ryan of Fianna Fáil. “A huge amount of time, work and effort went into this budget from this side of the house, and a set of proposals were put. There were no counterproposals … there was no need for an adjournment.”

No shows
Independent councillor Christy Hyland, who backed the budget, hit back at his former party colleagues in Fine Gael by accusing them of not turning up to workshops and meetings to discuss the budget.
“How can you represent the people by not showing up to two of the most important meetings of the year? Absolutely disgraceful. I was totally embarrassed,” he said.
Seamus Weir (Ind) was also scathing to former colleagues in Fine Gael.
“You got your GMA, and I bet lads you will spend it. You will go around and spend it and take credit when you didn’t even sit at that meeting to discuss the budget. How dare you come up with a load of crap. You should be ashamed of yourselves,” he said.
Chief Executive of Mayo County Council Peter Hynes said any information sought by various councillors in advance of budget meetings was given without delay, and he defended Cllr Mulroy’s handling of the meeting.
“The meeting was run from a procedural point of view absolutely perfectly, and the decisions made were beyond reproach and above any challenge in accordance with legislation,” he said.