FERMOY EXPENSES ROW SET TO RUN AND RUN
The fallout of Fermoy Town Council’s vote to reduce members’ conference expenses for the year ahead was felt this week with local election candidate Adam Douglas heavily criticising those who voted against scrapping the fund altogether.
In particular the Green Party representative for Fermoy has said he is “disgusted by the failure of Aileen Pyne, Fine Gael’s only town councillor, to support a move by four other members to forego conference allowances for the coming year”, claiming that it highlights Fine Gael’s ‘double speak’ on the issue of value for money.
“What we have here is a classical case of a party very critical of economic waste nationally but more than happy to squander money at local level. Cllr. Pyne defiantly defends the indefensible where conference allowances are concerned and has knocked back a very sensible proposal on an evening where she would similarly have been aware of the swimming pool’s financial difficulties and the €1m town council deficit predicted for next year.
" In an ideal situation all of the €25,000 could have been saved and furthermore the €3,000 spent on membership of the AMAI (Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland), from which the conference culture developed in the first instance, could be seen as it is, an excess,” Mr Douglas said.
Last week Councillors Seamus Coleman, Michael Hanley, Peter Merrigan and Brian Power voted in favour of reducing the allocated conference expenses from €25,000 to €13,000 with each in turn giving an undertaking that they would not seek any such expenses for the year ahead to facilitate the reduction in the allocated expenditure.
Cllr Pyne was vocal in her defence of the conference attendances, and was supported in the vote on the matter by Councillors John Murphy and Tim Carey. Mr Douglas was also very critical of the role of the mayor during the evening’s proceedings.
“As the town’s mayor, he is hardly a captain leading by example. Mayor O’Donovan both maintained his conference allowance and the mayoral allowance, both of which have questionable necessity in a time of great financial difficulty. There is a justifiable sense that the man is bereft of a clear map of where he wants the town to go and this is not a desirable situation now especially, nor at any time in particular,” he said.
In outlining his proposal for the allocation of the €12,000 the council now has at its disposal as a result of the vote, Cllr Michael Hanley said the education value of such conferences was not the issue at hand, and claimed that councillors should pay for such seminars from their annual council income.
“I regret Cllr Pyne’s stance on the issue but she is well known for her fondness for conference attendances. When she intimates the good these conferences do for the education of councillors in the context of a budget debate she completely misses the point. Councillors still have their council income, in her case two incomes, to afford to pay for these conferences out of our own pockets,” Cllr Hanley said.
“Essentially all of this is predicated on how one approaches their position on the council; as either an honour to serve the local people or to regard it as a job. If it is seen as a job then perhaps in future we should require a qualification or perhaps an entrance exam for it.
“I reject out of hand any accusations of political grandstanding with a view to next summer’s local elections, I have totally opposed these expenses from the first time I sat on the council some 24 years ago. I regard it, like many issues coming to the fore nationally, as an abuse of public finances, which in this case are generated through local forms of taxation,” he added.
Cllr Pyne once again defended the conferences, and when asked of Cllr Hanley’s suggestion that the expense for conferences could be incurred in the councillors’ annual salary, Cllr Pyne highlighted the fact that all nine councils in Cork county with a rateable base allocate areas funds for expenses.
“I am involved in the AMAI and we have fought hard for 21 years to get these conferences organised. I think it is a pity that none of the four who have sought to reduce the expenses have ever attended an AMAI conference and have failed to see their value. Every council in the country has a council allocation for these expenses,” she told The Avondhu.
Meanwhile Cllr Hanley said that some confusion had arisen as a result of the vote to redistribute the money that had been earmarked for expenses.
“It should be made clear that the Promotion of Interests of Local Community Scheme is not to be re-established. What I have proposed is the transfer of money that was set aside for the attendance at conferences. I personally wish the lot had been scrapped as I believe it is an economic plight on the State,” he said.
“My proposal, backed by Councillors Seamus Coleman, Peter Merrigan and Brian Power is aimed at hopefully establishing a permanent fund where the town can contribute to what I consider to be the vital, most important aspect of education at primary level.
The funds would be available to seven primary schools in the area, five in the town itself and schools in Grange and Clondulane. I hope that those who will follow us on in the council will maintain this fund and realise its potential.
The fund is specifically designed for the parents of children who find themselves in difficult financial circumstances day to day. It is not for school building programmes or related purposes,” Cllr Hanley explained.
Tuesday 30th December 12:24pm