COUNCILLORS UP THE ANTE IN FERMOY
Christmas came early in Fermoy this year as four members of the town council agreed to forego their conference expenses for 2009, instead insisting that the funds go towards local primary schools and the struggling town leisure centre.
In extraordinary scenes at the Fermoy Town Council budget meeting last Tuesday, Councillors Seamus Coleman, Michael Hanley, Peter Merrigan and Brian Power asked that the money set aside for their conference expenses for the year ahead, a total of €12,000, be redistributed in the budget.
The four asked that the money be used to help subsidise the Fermoy Leisure Centre and to re-establish a Promotion of Interests of Local Community Scheme that was to be cut due to a lack of funds.
The remaining five councillors - Mayor Tadhg O’Donovan and Councillors Tim Carey, William Hughes, John Murphy and Aileen Pyne chose not to follow suit, thus leaving the council with €13,000 budgeted towards any conference expenses that those five alone may incur.
Six local primary schools are now set to benefit to the tune of €5,000 from the Community Scheme while the Fermoy Leisure Centre will receive €7,000 towards its expenditure as a result of the four councillors who have surrendered their expenses.
The allocation of expenses has been a source of contention in recent times. The four councillors who have donated their expenses had been vocal in their opposition to the conferences and the value for taxpayers’ money that the seminars represented.
This opposition was raised once again at the budget meeting. Comparing the conference trips to the recent FAS expenses scandal, Sinn Fein Councillor Seamus Coleman said that the amount spent by the council on conferences was ‘mad,’ adding that he has yet to see the value for money in the trips.
“Maybe they should look at their performance,” Cllr Coleman said of the five councillors who have availed of such conference trips and have chosen to keep the expenses for 2009.
“I propose that the €2,800 set aside for my conference expenses be removed and put against the swimming pool,” Cllr Peter Merrigan said, “I don’t want it, I won’t use it and I will put that in writing. I ask that any other councillor who wishes may do the same.”
Cllr Hanley said that he was ‘shocked’ at the expenditure on conference trips that was ‘unrealistic’ considering the current economic climate. Cllr Hanley added that he believed that such expenses would be incurred by councillors who already benefit from an automatic allowance afforded to members of Fermoy Town Council every six months and that €5,000 of the overall €25,000 designated for conference expenses should instead go into the Community Scheme.
He said it would be a ‘significant gesture’ from local officials during a difficult economic environment if this scheme were to be earmarked for disadvantaged primary school pupils.
In contrast Cllr Pyne defended the conference trips, expressing her disappointment that the four councillors in question did not avail of the educational advantages such seminars had to offer. Such education, Cllr Pyne added, was of benefit to the same five councillors who recently met with Minister of State Sean Power to negotiate a compromise on the ongoing weir issue.
This example did not sit well with Cllr Power, who took offence at Cllr Pyne’s remarks.
He explained that due to the short notice of the meeting with the minister and given that the meeting was held during business hours he, and other councillors, were unable to attend. As a postal worker, he noted, two days notice is not enough to take time off at his profession’s busiest time of year.
The original programme within the budget that outlined expenses was defeated by four votes to three, with Cllrs Carey, Murphy and Pyne voting for the adoption of the programme as it was and Cllrs Coleman, Hanley, Merrigan and Power voting against to facilitate their proposals. Cllr William Hughes abstained from the vote and therefore Mayor Tadgh O’Donovan’s casting vote was not required.
Subsequent amendments to previous programmes that now benefited from the redistribution of the conference expenses funds were all voted in by four votes to nil; Cllrs Coleman, Hanley, Merrigan and Power voting in favour and Cllrs Carey, Hughes, Murphy and Pyne abstaining from these votes.
The 2009 budget for Fermoy Town Council was then voted in by the same margin; four votes to nil. Once again Cllrs Coleman, Hanley, Merrigan and Power voted in favour and Cllrs Carey, Hughes, Murphy and Pyne abstained from the vote.
Friday 19th December 1:57pm