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Council Budget Drama: Dissolution averted after legal advice

DCC WEB

BY C.J.MCGINLEY

DESPITE a vote not to pass a budget Donegal County Council has averted being dissolved for the first time in its history.

After 33 hours of talks, over three days, the 29 members of the local authority failed to pass their budget for 2014 at midnight on Tuesday.

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After a recorded vote at 12.45 pm the budget fell by 15 votes to 13. However, they agreed shortly after 1am on Wednesday morning to have last ditch talks on Monday ( January 13)  in a final desperate attempt to save the council from being dissolved following legal advice to the council.

This give the council a ‘window of opportunity’ to broker a deal but in the words of one councillor it was merely a case of a ‘stay of execution’.

The eleven members of Fianna Fail, three Sinn Fein representatives and an Independent Cllr John Campbell, a 33-year-old teacher in Glenties had refused to support the budget.

The council is now facing the real prospect of being run until the local elections in May by an administrator from the Department of Environment on behalf of the Minister for Environment, Mr Phil Hogan TD along with executive staff.

If this comes to pass it  would be the first time in 32 years a local authority in the country has been dissolved after failing to strike a deal and pass a budget.

The last council to face such a plight was Carlow back in 1982. It happened only once ever before that back  in 1947 when Limerick Council suffered a similar fate.

After 10 adjournments on Tuesday and 22 in all over three days of deliberations members remained deeply divided on the budget.

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Acting County Secretary, Mr Liam Ward, told members shiortly before 1 am on Wednesday, he had sought advice from the council solicitors late on Tuesday night in the event of the members failing to pass a budget.

He said an option existed to adopt a budget to January 13, after failing to reach an agreement on three previous meetings. Members did not take up this option.

“It cannot go past January 13 as set out by Ministerial circular,” he said.

Independent Cllr Padraig O’Dochartaigh said the option should be exercised and called for members to return at 11 am on January 13 in an effort to agree a budget.

Amid major confusion, Fiana Fail whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan said nothing would be achieved before January 13 unless there were major changes to the issues they had raised by management and national government.

“Our deep concerns and opposition to the budget, paticularly about the transfer of water services to Irish Water remain and it would take significant moves by management and national legislators for us to change our minds at this stage. We’ve invested huge time over three days and voted against the budget tonight- difficult as it was,” he said.

“I can’t see what will be achieved on January 13“We can’t fool ourselves that anything is going to change but if there is a window then we should look at it.”,” he said.

But Sinn Fein whip, Cllr Mick Quinn insisted: “There is no point in coming back on January 13. There is little or no possibility of any flexibility in terms of additional resources.”

He said opposed it saying there was no logic in adjourning the meeting any further. We can’t keep leading the people up a hill. Either we are serious or not about the vote that was taken not to pass the budget and effectively dissolve the council. Unless we hear very serious proposals to broker a deal it is misleading to the public to come back here on January 13 for a meeting that is going to achieve nothing,” he said.

Independent Cllr John Campbell, who had minutes earlier voted against the budget, supported the call to adjourn again to it to January 13. However, Sinn Fein opposed it saying there was no logic in adjourning the meeting any further.

“We can’t keep leading the people up a hill. Either we are serious or not about the vote that was taken not to pass the budget and effectively dissolve the council. Unless we hear very serious proposals to broker a deal it is misleading to the public to come back here on January 13 for a meeting that is going to achieve nothing,” he said.

The Manager, Mr Seamus Neely, appealed to members to give it a last ditch attempt and said members had a clear grasp of the situation.

“In the circumstances and having invested so much time to date, I’m prepared to meet whips and should carefully consider,” he said.

Cllr Bernard McGuinness said members owed it to the people of Donegal and the executive staff to explore all options and make one last ditch attempt to resolve differences.

“We need to go home and reflect. Just imagine tomorrow if the government decided there would be no county council in Donegal. They’ve already done it with urban councils. There are many ways of protesting,” he said.

Against a backdrop of deep divisions overs around the establishment of Irish Water, the introduction of domestic water charges in October,  unfinished housing estates, and cuts to roads and council housing maintenance the impasse was not been broke.

The main stumbling block around the transfer of water services to Irish water  provided and the transfer by ministerial order of 355 million worth of assets from the local authority to the semi-state body without discussion proved to be insormountable while other deep  concerns centred around cuts to housing stock and roads maintenance.

The only common ground between the councillors centred around proposals to cut the commercial rates by 5 per cent and plans to increase the expenditure on the Development Fund Initiative for local community and voluntary groups in Donegal by of over 250,000.

However, the County Manager had deep reservations about the five per cent rate cut. Mr Seamus Neely warned if it was implemented it would cost the council over 1 million in lost rates from 4,000 rate payers across Donegal.

Fianna Fail, who have 11 members on the local authority, claimed the legislation to enact Irish Water was’ rammed’ through the Dail without consultation by the government and deprived members of any input into the future provision of water services in the county.

Party whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan said the fact the legislation was signed on Christmas Day was ‘unheard of in the history of the state’

“This budget is not about one party. It is about the county of Donegal. Over the years there would be differences on issues such as roads and health but the one thing we done we stood up for the people of Donegal,”

“The one thing evident here is the people of Donegal are not getting the right deal. To accept what is proposed by Irish Water is unheard of in the history of the state that this act was signed into law on December 19. The government parties decided to ram this legislation through the Dail without giving opposition parties a say,”

Despite last minute appeals by the County Manager members failed to broker a deal.

Appealing to members two hours before the statutory deadline loomed, Mr Neely, said he was anxious the council did not default into a position where it would be dissolved.

Fine Gael party whip Cllr Barry O’Neill, said the meeting had turned into a nonsense and other parties were looking for a ‘great headline’.

“ I came here for a budget meeting and all I’m hearing are party political broadcasts. Irish Water is not part of the budget,” he said.

Cllr O’Neill, said Fine Gael was the only part that had come forward with  a set of financial proposals in an effort to break the impasse shortly before 10pm, after a 12 hour meeting.

These included proposals to reduce commercial rates by five per cent for over 4,000 businesses in Donegal and a sharp increase of €250,000 (€50,000 per electoral area) in the Development Fund Initiative to assist local community and voluntary groups.

 

Mayor Ian McGarvey, said he never wanted to see the council dissolved.

 

“It is the one body that represents the people. Regretabbly, the removal of powers from this authority goes back a long way even to the transfer of health services from the council,”

 

“Any government department can ignore you. Where there is division- nobody cares. I know you can snipe at government but I have watched many over the years people had complaints. I respect every councillor, but if means tomorrow you’re not around and the department is in here we’re in a different wicket,”

“Developers have walked away from unfinished estates. This is the sad story for me and who is paying?- the people of this county,”

“Donegal was not served well over the years by national government . It is third world stuff in some parts of this county. They can supple tunnels and LUAS in Dublin, but the rural people of Ireland are neglected,” he said.

 

Sinn Fein party whip, Cllr Mick Quinn, said his party could not support an austerity budget and also plans to introduce water charges from October.

“People cannot take another charge. The imposition of water charges is a step too far- enough is enough. We are not representing the people who elected us tpo the best of our ability by passing a budget for the sake of it,” Cllr Quinn said.

“If it means we get our P45 tonight, so be it, but let us send a clear message to government enough is enough,” he concluded.

Irate members of the Fine Gael and Labour party groupings were livid the council had to be dissolved. They claimed the budget was balanced and saw a proposed increase in expenditure of 5 million for the first time in several years.

At 11.40 pm, twenty hours before the deadline loomed, Fine Gael party whip Cllr Barry O’Neill said having had discussions with various parties and senior management of the council to try and strike a budget, he proposed a revised proposal to strike a deal.

He said the Fine Gael proposals were supported by Labour party councillor Martin Farren and Independents Frank McBrearty, Michael McBride and Padraig O’Dochartaigh and Ian McGarvey.

“This is a fair proposal in the interest of the business, voluntary, social and sporting bodies in the county,” he said.

This revised proposals included plans for  a reduction of two per cent in the commercial rates, and a the Development Fund Initiative would be increased by 100,000 per electoral area to support community and voluntary groups in Donegal.

The revised plans also sought an increase of 32,000 on the Members Development Fund.

It also sought a  new Repair Fund of 100,000 euro fund to assist with repairs to LIS Roads.

They also sought an exemption of commercial rates for start up businesses’.

They also proposed a 100,000 tourism-marketing fund and Donegal GAA receive a grant of 25,000 towards a Centre of Excellence in Convoy.

Party spokesman, Cllr Bernard McGuinness, who has served on the local authority since 1979, said he ‘shuddered to think’ of the consequences of a dissolution for the people of Donegal.

“The preservation of this council is paramount,” he warned.

Fianna Fail party whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan, spoke shortly after midnight and acknowledged the efforts by officials to try and find agreement over three days.

“We sought a five per cent rates reduction, a retrofit grant  for council housing and the whole of roads maintenance is a serious issue. The funding for roads is being cut- even the NRA allocation this week was halved,

“However, the big elephant in the room is Irish Water. The power and discretion we have over water services is gone. Fine Gael and Labour are now going to go after rate payers to maximise collection for commercial rates.

“The real issue is Irish Water. While it is nice to see proposed increases in the Development Fund Initiative, we will not sell our soul for thirty pieces of silver. Our party has been consistent around the fears of handing over water services to Irish Water and the direction this council is going,

“We are not in a position to support the budget because the transfer of water services to Irish Water is not in the best interest of the people of Donegal. The privatisation of water services is going to have serious implications on householders and businesses’ in this county,”

“I’m still appealing to members of Fine Gael and Labour to take a stand and say stop- enough is enough,” he added.

Sinn Fein party whip, Cllr Mick Quinn, said the estimates book presented by management was ‘heavy on aspiration and light on detail’.

“We’re being asked to support a budget that has reduced services., We’re being asked to hand over water services to Irish Water who have refused to meet us to get clarification around how the new water services’ arrangements will affect our people,” he said.

“Once again the staff are being asked to provide more for less. There will be less staff, redeployment and redundancies. It will be a net loss to the council.

“We’re told efficiencies and savings will be found but we feel the wells are dry. This county has been devastated by unemployment and emigration in recent years,”

“We have the worst infrastructure in Ireland. Our roads are crumbling. Youth unemployment in Donegal is running at 50 per cent.

“We know the consequences of our opposition to the budget but we’re doing in the interest of the people of this county. I got elected, not to pass a budget, but to represent the people,” he added.

“People cannot take another charge. The imposition of water charges is a step too far- enough is enough. We are not representing the people who elected us tpo the best of our ability by passing a budget for the sake of it,” he added.

“If it means we get our P45 tonight, so be it, but let us send a clear message to government enough is enough,” he concluded

—–

 

 

BY C.J.MCGINLEY

WITH just two hours to go before it faces dissolution for failing to pass a budget, there is still no signs of a last dcitch attempt to save the local authority.

The meeting is due to resume again at 10pm after eight adjournments today and 19 over three days of brinkmanship talks have failed to get agreement to pass the 138 million budget. It would be the first time in 32 years a local authority has failed to agree a budget and was dissolved.

The only other previous dissolution was in Limerick back in 1947.

Against a backdrop of deep divisions overs around the establishment of Irish Water, the introduction of domestic water charges in October,  unfinished housing estates, and cuts to roads and council housing maintenance the impasse has not been broke.

The main stumbling block around the transfer of water services to Irish water is still proving to be insormountable while other concerns centre around housing, roads and planning services.

Fianna Fail, who have 11 members on the local authority claim the legislation to enact Irish Water was rammed through the Dail without consultation by the government and deprives members of any input into the future provision of water services in the county.

Party whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan said the fact the legislation was signed on Christmas Day was ‘unheard of in the history of the state’

“This budget is not about one party. It is about the county of Donegal. Over the years there would be differences on issues such as roads and health but the one thing we done we stood up for the people of Donegal,”

“The one thing evident here is the people of Donegal are not getting the right deal. To accept what is proposed by Irish Water is unheard of in the history of the state that this act was signed into law on December 19. The government parties decided to ram this legislation through the Dail without giving opposition parties a say,”

BY C.J.MCGINLEY

The budget meeting is due to resume at 9pm after the sixth adjournment of the day and the 16th over the three days of deliberation.

However, sources claim ‘the council was effectively dead in the water’ and would be dissolved before brinkmanship talks began to avert this unprecedented situation.

“Fianna Fail is not for going back. The dye has been cast,” one source said.

 

By C.J.MCGINLEY

DONEGAL County Council is on the brink of collapse. After 16 adjournments, including six today (Tuesday) over the past three days members are still deeply divided about passing a budget.

The main stumbling block around the transfer of water services to Irish water is still proving to be insormountable while other concerns centre around housing, roads and planning services.

At 7pm Fianna Fail party whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan, rose to his feet and said after three days it was remarkable to hear opposition parties talking about negotiations when his party had never been approached on such matters.

“This budget is not about one party. It is about the county of Donegal. Over the years there would be differences on issues such as roads and health but the one thing we done we stood up for the people of Donegal,”

“The one thing evident here is the people of Donegal are not getting the right deal. To accept what is proposed by Irish Water is unheard of in the history of the state that this act was signed into law on December 19. The government parties decided to ram this legislation through the Dail without giving opposition parties a say,”

“We have 219 workers in water services. People will be leaving this council before March. There is a recruitment embargo. The service is now in control of Irish Water. Where have you ever seen legislation being signed into law on Christmas Day,”#

“I’ve been saying for a year and half is that the local man on the ground is being removed and is being replaced by free phone numbers. We have to wait six weeks for a licence, schools grants taken away. What are we going to do next year?. All the services are being taken away and we have to follow our instinct and stand together and demand a meeting with the Minister and government,”

“We have 161,000 people and the biggest amount of rural schemes in this county. Management hands were tied. It is no harm for us to go back to government and say here we won’t accept. We have been here over many decisions. There is not enough clarity around the whole issue of Irish Water. Power is being taken away from people and it is all wrong. The meters are being installed and from October we won’t have a say in the charge of water in our taps,”

“Prioritisation of scheme is being taken away from us. We’re being robbed of a priceless resource and I’d appeal to government parties to take a stand with the people on this matter.

“ We need to go back to Irish Water, the Minister and the government we will not stand for us. Fianna Fail cannot support the budget. It is unfortunate, but we can’t have a situation where faceless people in call centres are dealing with queries,” he added.

Fine Gael spokesman, Cllr Bernard McGuinness said he’d been on councils since 1979 and there had been many ups and downs.

“We made our proposals and worked them through till the small hours of the morning. It will have serious repercussions for this council. I won’t be lectured on procedure by members who are only here a few years,”

“ I respect where Fianna Fail are at if they can’t support the budget. We want to meet the manager to see what can be worked through,” he added proposing a three quarters of an hour adjournment.

This was opposed by Cllr Campbell and seconded by Sinn Fein whip, Cllr Mick Quinn.

Cllr Terence Slowey, said no other party apart from Fine Gael, had put forward financial proposals.

“We don’t have control over Irish Water. The time for play-acting is over. If the members want an administrator to run this council it is time to get real,” he said.

“This country is bankrupt. I’ve concerns over Irish Water too, but the reason it is in place is when Fianna Fail handed over the soveringty of this country for the first time in the history of state,”

“We are not saying the proposals from Fine Gael are ideal, but lets get real if there is a compromise to ensure this council is here next week,”

“I’d prefer that than a beaucract from Dublin coming in here to run this council for the next five months,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Marie Therese Gallagher said roads, culture, planning and housing were being cut in the budget estimates.

“The fact is everyone in this county is paying more for less services,”  she said.

“It is not a good deal for the people of Donegal. It is a reduced service, but people will be paying more,” she added.

Independent Cllr Padraig ‘Dochartaigh, said Irish Water was in place and members could do little about it.

“It is providing an income stream for the next 12 years and is also taking over 350 million in book assets and loans to the value of 49billion. Hotels and houses are being sold at very low prices and Irish Water is the only body in the market to take over the assets,” he said.

Mayor McGarvey, said in some areas of the county there had been 180 bursts on parts of the network in the past 18 months.

“I’m not dictating to anyone, or playing politics but this county has had the highest deprivation in the country for years,” he said.

“Life will not change if we are not here tomorrow, but I want to see a compromise found collectively tonight,” he added.

The Manager said he hadn’t anyone saying they didn’t want a service to continue in Donegal.

Appealing to members he was anxious the council did not default into a position where it would be dissolved.

“With that in mind and nowithstanding all that has been said, we are prepared to meet all parties and thrash out all the outstanding issues.

“Maybe, there is wisdom in taking a break and pull from threads of what has been said. There are serious implications if the council is dissolved,” he said.

However, there was further tension at around 7.30pm in the chamber when Cllr Frank McBrearty, launched another blistering attack on members of Fianna Fail.

“The first budget I attended was passed by ten members of Fianna Fail. They have constantly claimed over the past four years they’ve been excluded. However, the only thing they have lost is three Mayors and three Deputy Mayors. They have kept every position they got at the first AGM.

“They have two SPC chairs and every committee they want to be on. Between the 11 of them the have on average 47,000 a year between them. I’m not going to sit here and tolerate their claims of being excluded,” he said.

“I’m criticised constantly in here. I’ll say what I want to say. The dogs on the street know what they (Fianna Fail) are about- look at the comments on facebook and twitter. I’m not intimidated by anyone in this chamber. Tell the truth,” he said to Fianna Fail members.

BY C.J.MCGINLEY

BY 6pm today, Donegal County Council remains under serious threat of dissolution at midnight tonight.

Despite over 30 hours of deliberations, party discussions and detailed meetings with management brinkmanship type talks were continuing in an effort to broker a deal.

There has been 15 adjournment of the budget meeting over three days but the parties are still deeply divided on issue such as the future provision of water services to Irish Water.

 

Their main sticking points were the proposed introduction of domestic water charges, rates reductions, unfinished housing estates, roads and council housing maintenance.

The meeting is now adjourned (6.20pm) for another 20 minutes.

 

BY C.J.MCGINLEY
TEMPERS flared at the outset of the reconvened County Council budget meeting and there was a threat to call in the gardai.

It happened as Fianna Fail party whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan, was about to speak at the third attempt to agree the 2014 annual budget.Before this Independent Cllr Frank McBrearty, had made several of what were described as ‘snide’ comments in the direction of the Fianna Fáil benches.

An irate Cllr Brogan, said it was a ‘shambles’ that members of his party were being subjected to allegations and comments from Cllr McBrearty. He warned if they continued he’d be calling for the gardai to be brought into the chamber ‘to protect his members’. “It is a shambles what is going on here,” he said demanding a ten-minute adjournment. It is not good enough,” he added.

When the meeting resumed after a brief adjournment, the Mayor called on members to treat each other with respect. He demanded that no more “remarks” were made. “We need to be big enough to discuss proposals and find agreement,” he said.
“I don’t want personal remarks being made in this chamber. I respect all members equally. It annoys me listening to snide remarks being made by anyone in the chamber,” he added.
“If we allow the council to fall and let somebody else run it- this would be a very sad day for Donegal,”the Mayor added.
Cllr Brogan said in order to be constructive Fianna Fail wanted clarity around the issues they had raised.

After a marathon 23 hours budget meeting over two days, including 13 adjournments members of Donegal County Council failed again to broker a deal and pass their budget of 138 million for 2014 again on Monday.

The members will reconvene tomorrow (Tuesday) at 1pm in a last ditch attempt to break the impasse against a threat of disolution by the Minister for Environment if they can’t strike a deal.

Throughout the reconvened budget meeting on Monday, a series of party meetings with council management took place behind closed doors in an effort to find a compromise deal. Eventually the Fine Gael party whip, Cllr Barry O’Neill, came forward with a set of proposals in an effort to break the impasse shortly before 10pm, after a 12 hour meeting.

These included proposals to reduce commercial rates by five per cent rates for over 4,000 businesses in Donegal and a sharp increase of 250,000 (50,000 per electoral area) in the Development Fund Initiative to assist local community and voluntary groups.

This takes the Development Fund Initiative from 100,000 to 150,000 per electoral area. However, this too caused concerns as the County Manager, Mr Seamus Neely, warned it would cost the council 1.6 million to implement as the local authority will lose over a million euro on commercial rates.

Shortly before 10.40pm tonight (Monday) Independent Councillor John Campbell rejected the Fine Gael proposals saying they were ‘pie in the sky’ stuff and formally proposed an adjournment.

The eleven members of Fianna Fail, who also didn’t support the budget plans, called for an urgent rates reduction for businesses’ and clarity around the Service Level Agreements with Irish Water around water prices, metering and the acquisition of the water and waste water infrastructure-assets belonging to the council.

Party whip, Cllr Ciaran Brogan claimed the council’s finances were operating in a vaccum due to the lack of clarity around water services and rates fears which was leaving the council executive in a financial conundrum.

In a document handed to the County Manager, Fianna Fail, said they had major concerns as to the future of water services provision in Donegal following the transfer to Irish Water.

The party sought clarification about the future plans under the Service Level Agreement for Private- Group Water Schemes, the installation of water meters, valuation of the assets, legacy debts and customer billing arrears.

They also called for more investment in council housing stock.

“We strongly urge that money be made available for a retrofit scheme and also to introduce a pilot scheme whereby the council tenants will have an opportunity to receive grants to have stoves and back boilers fitted to reduce their heating costs,” he said.

“We are alarmed by the fact there is no provision in the budget estimates for Essential Repair Grants, the Mobility Aids Grant or the Housing Adaption Grant which has seen so much positive work done in home across the country,” Cllr Brogan stated.

Fianna Fail also demanded extra expenditure on roads due the poor condition of the network in some parts.

However, opposing any such moves, Fine Gael Councillor John Ryan accused Fianna Fail of playing politics and called on the party members to ‘get real’ on rate reductions instead of engaging in rhetoric without facts or figures.

It was revealed for the first time at the meeting by County Manager, Mr Seamus Neely, the council will transfer over 355 million worth of assets to Irish Water.

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