Transparent and accountable governance on the North West Frontier

From the Donegal Democrat, a lovely little tale of how politics works in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas:

Labour Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr said that Donegal Mayor, Fianna Fáil Cllr. Brendan Byrne, has broken the trust in the council chamber by allowing a quorum of 10 Fianna Fáil councillors to adopt the 2010 budget while the remaining 19 were in a meeting down the hall.

He said that as mayor, or chairperson of the council, Mayor Byrne should remain impartial. “I would describe now Brendan Byrne the same as (former Ceann Comhairle] John O’Donohue – there’s not much of a difference between both of them,” he said.

“I should have had more sense with everything I learned over 14 years,” Cllr. McBrearty said. But he said he had given his faith to the mayor. “He took that faith from me anyway.”

The Labour councillor said he believed the mayor had a responsibility to notify the remaining councillors – who were discussing proposals for funding a cut in commercial rates – that the meeting had reconvened.

“There is no honour in what he did and he has to live with it,” Cllr. McBrearty said.

This was Cllr. McBrearty’s first budget meeting and he said he was led to believe meetings would be adjourned and reconvened several times to allow for negotiations among parties, as they had been in the past.

“Dirty tricks politics is what it is,” Cllr. McBrearty said. He said the move will affect the way he sees the chair.

“He has left no trust within the chamber,” he said. “Every time we go to the toilet or go out for a bit of fresh air we have to be watching our back in case the mayor tries to pass something without us. I wouldn’t trust him now as far as I could throw him.”

Steady on, Frank! Now, what do the Shinners have to say about this?

The Sinn Féin group on Donegal County Council are disgusted and outraged at the actions of the Fianna Fáil group of ten councillors, in passing this year’s Donegal County Council budget in the absence of the other 19 elected members. Their actions are an affront to democracy in the county.

As representatives of a political party that has presided over the economic calamity that the people of Donegal and the Irish state are enduring, we would have expected that Fianna Fáil councillors, of all the elected members, would have been most sensitive to the need to listen to the voice of others in arriving at a budget for 2010.

Next year, Donegal County Council will have half the budget they had in 2007, dropping from over 440 million euro then to 220 million euro now. This is having a profound impact on the services provided by the council to the people of Donegal. Furthermore, the council has lost a quarter of its workforce in the last year, a loss of 300 jobs.

This year, as is always the case, the Sinn Féin group went through the County Manager’s draft budget book in great detail. While the Manager had committed to reducing commercial rates as requested by all the elected members, Sinn Féin, like others, sought to reduce them further than the 3% cut suggested. At the budget meeting, we made the following proposals:
· Cut the member’s conference expenses from €5,000 per councillor down to €1,500 per councillor. Saving = €101,500.
· Cut overseas travel budget from €30,000 down to €10,000. Saving = €20,000.
· Cut members public lighting from €92,800 down to zero as the scheme has not functioned in recent years. Saving = €92,800.
· Increase the target for second home levy collection from 2.5 million euro to 3 million euro. Additional income = €500,000.

This would have resulted in a further 3% cut in the commercial rate to that agreed by Fianna Fáil. With our proposals, commercial rates would have been reduced by at least 6%. We also proposed the following to assist the council in generating extra revenue to the council for investment in the development of the county.

· Deliver on targeted savings from new procurement and purchasing system. Potential additional income = 2.4 to 2.8 million euro.
· Seek compensation for, or recovery of, exceptional pension costs due to Government policy on early retirement from Department of Finance. Potential additional income = 1 to 2 million euro.

After the presentations by council management and initial statements from the various political groupings on the council, we broke for lunch and it was agreed that we would reconvene the meeting and immediately adjourn to allow for discussions between the parties/ groupings.

Fianna Fáil chose to meet amongst themselves and the Sinn Féin group took up an invitation from the Fine Gael group to discuss their proposals.

As that meeting was constructive and some common ground was being found, we invited the Labour and Independent councillors to join us in the understanding that the Fianna Fáil group were still involved in their own meeting. Again, the extended group of 19 councillors were engaging on a constructive basis when we were interrupted to learn that the ten Fianna Fáil councillors had passed the budget in our absence on the technicality that a quorum of seven councillors is all that is required.

While we were working together with others in the best interests of the county, Fianna Fáil were pulling a stroke. However, they are only fooling themselves. The days of Fianna Fáil running this county on their own are over whether they realise that or not.

Over the Christmas period, the four Sinn Féin county councillors will be meeting with senior party members in the county to discuss our next steps. Serious questions will be put to the Fianna Fail group and in particular, Mayor Brendan Byrne on how they thought this could be justified. Clearly, Fianna Fáil are going to have to demonstrate that they are willing to work with others in mutual respect and undo the damage done by their outrageous actions.

They should not take ongoing Sinn Féin involvement in, and support for, the technical agreement over Mayors, Deputy Mayors, and some committee positions for granted. Sinn Féin’s priority on council is to represent those who voted for us, taking our rightful place at the table of collective decision making. We sought all inclusive powers sharing on the council after this years council elections and only entered into the technical agreement with Fianna Fáil, Labour, and Independent councillor Seamus O’ Domhnaill after we learned that Fine Gael were intent on keeping us out of the senior positions on council our numbers entitled us to. Following the exclusion of our party from virtually all council positions after the 2004 election, we were not going to meekly allow that to happen again. Our agreement does not extend beyond council positions. It is not a political pact. Indeed, Sinn Féin have led the fight in this county and on council against Government cutbacks and policy, delivering over 100, 000 leaflets in recent months.

At all times, Sinn Féin councillors will defend the rights of those who support us. Fianna Fáil attempted to deny those rights at the budget meeting. They will not succeed.

Sounds like par for the course from the Soldiers of Fortune. More at The Story, where it’s noted that Donegal County Council has one of the worst reputations for transparency of any public body in the state. From what I know of the political warlord clans in that neck of the woods, somehow it doesn’t surprise me.

Catholicism news: If you think Donegal is a rum place, try on Herzegovina for size. Many Irish people of course regularly visit there on pilgrimages to the Marian shrine in the village of Medjugorje. By the way, the apparations of Our Lady at Medjugorje are not officially recognised by the Church, which is sort of the point of this story.

As you may have heard, some little time back the Holy See introduced tough new guidelines for the certification of miracles and apparitions, which involved visionaries being questioned by psychiatrists who – and I love this – may be either Catholics or atheists. (Shades of the Chinese Communist Party deciding who’s going to be the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.) Rome has, up until now, been studiously neutral, tending to the sceptical, on the Medjugorje phenomenon.

A contributory factor is that local Catholic hierarchies, imbued with a deep distrust of lay visionaries, tend to look askance at that sort of thing. See, for example, the reaction of the Limerick clergy to local culchies worshipping tree stumps. As far as Medjugorje goes, Bishop Ratko Perić of Mostar and Duvno takes an especially dusty view, as did his diocesan predecessor the late Dr Pavao Žanić, influenced perhaps by Medjugorje being something of a political bone of contention between rival Bosnian Croat factions.

Now, after what happened to the late Archduke Franz Ferdinand, you might think Austrian dignitaries would think twice about venturing into that part of the world. But you’d have reckoned without Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna and big wheel in the CDF, who’s just been on a visit to the shrine. Schönborn stresses in his public statement that his visit was merely private and should not be taken as an indication of Vatican approval of the Medjugorje phenomenon. Nonetheless, the optics are all. The Medjugorje entrepreneurs are understandably cock-a-hoop; the estimable Bishop Perić less so.

Rud eile: A quite excellent article on Yemen from Richard.

6 Comments

  1. Liam said,

    January 5, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    Did the Sinn Fein councillors do anything to try and save the 300 local government jobs?

    • Irish Mark P said,

      January 5, 2010 at 5:19 pm

      Don’t be silly Liam.

  2. tgmac said,

    January 6, 2010 at 6:35 am

    Good one. FF conduct politics like demented soviet apparchniks but the real story is that SF didn’t prevent the sun rising. Amazing revolutionary insight. The workers must be wetting themselves.

    • Irish Mark P said,

      January 6, 2010 at 8:20 am

      Sinn Fein’s main objection to the content of the budget passed (as opposed to the stunt which allowed it to pass) is that rates on business weren’t cut by enough. Do you really think that’s not significant?

  3. splinteredsunrise said,

    January 6, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    It’s not insignificant. Their approach, and I think this is consistent across the councils, has been to blunt the impact of austerity budgets. Albeit in Donegal they’ve done lots of agitprop around the issue, they still have to face this question of whether to oppose or ameliorate – and, given the nature of the party, they can usually be relied on to try and ameliorate.

    There’s also a more general problem for local government in the south, which is the continuing impact of Jack Lynch’s abolition of domestic rates. That means that, besides the block grant from central government, local councils’ only revenue bases are business rates and regressive service charges. Somebody needs to get a grip on that if there’s going to meaningful local government at all.

    That was a hell of a stroke from the FF councillors though. It’s like the sort of thing the SWP used to do.

  4. January 7, 2010 at 11:04 am

    [...] Splinty gives us a view of politics as it should not be done. An abstract: Labour Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr said that Donegal Mayor, Fianna Fáil Cllr. Brendan Byrne, has broken the trust in the council chamber by allowing a quorum of 10 Fianna Fáil councillors to adopt the 2010 budget while the remaining 19 were in a meeting down the hall. [...]


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