There were heated exchanges at the first meeting of the newly elected Laois County Council when a Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael coalition froze out poll-topping Sinn Féin and independent councillors.
Civil War politics was replaced by a new split as the major parties circled the wagons to keep the main appointments for themselves. With the independent amalgamation falling one person short of the required seven to operate a grouping system, and ensure representation, the new coalition was able to rubber stamp nominations to positions without the need for a vote.
Fine Gael did not nominate a candidate for the position of Cathaoirleach and instead voted for Fianna Fáil’s Cllr John Joe Fenelly who defeated Cllr Brendan Phelan by 13 votes to six. Fianna Fáil’s Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald was elected as leas-cathaoirleach, defeating Cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley along similar lines.
Prior to the vote, Cllr Dwane Stanley said there were 91 positions to be filled and she asked that their mandate be recognised and the positions be “divvied out on proportionality and divvied out fairly”.
While proposing Cllr Brendan Phelan for cathaoirleach, Cllr Noel Tuohy said: “We are looking at the end of the Civil War politics and I am absolutely amazed and delighted to see that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are at last reunited.”
On the election of Cllr Fennelly to the highest office in the county, Cllr Phelan wished him well and described him as a “very honourable and decent person”.
However, he took issue with the message of “providing stability” which he said was being put forward by his former party, Fianna Fáil. He said this was at odds with the message he received on the doorsteps from people facing difficulties. He said people did not want stability, they wanted decisions reversed such as the removal of discretionary medical cards, cuts in mobility allowance, and also information on water charges.
He said he had spoken to Cllr Willie Aird at the count and he had told him that people said to him that they were giving him a personal vote but were “not happy with the performance of the government”.
He also raised the issue of the hospital in Abbeyleix and asked if the councillors were prepared to stand behind the campaign to keep it open.
Cllr Aird said he was not willing to enter into a debate on the remarks that were passed, on the occasion of the election of the cathaoirleach. However, he described Cllr Phelan as a “bitter man” adding “we will have another day”.
There were heated exchanges shortly after when Cllr Phelan challenged the coalition stranglehold on committee appointments. Aidan Mullins had been nominated as one of three elected representatives to serve on the board of Portarlington Leisure Centre. His nomination as well as that of Cllr Noel Tuohy for the Portlaoise Leisure Centre committee fell on deaf ears as the majority grouping’s candidates were appointed. Cllrs Paschal McEvoy, Padraig Fleming and Tom Mulhall were appointed to the Portarlington Leisure Centre while Cllrs Aird, Jerry Lodge and Catherine Fitzgerald were appointed to the board of Portlaoise Leisure Centre.
Cllr Phelan asked was it not possible for them to consider local people for the positions as there “was no financial reward” involved. “You should consider people from the area who have a contribution to make. Most of those people got a good vote and exceeded the quota,” he said.
Cllr Aird took exception to this and said he had attended over 20 meetings in Dublin “to try and secure funding” for the Portlaoise Leisure Centre before its development. “It is a bit rich to come in and challenge the names we have put forward,” Cllr Aird said.
There are roughly three groupings on the council, Cllr Phelan said, and he suggested that some of those people should be considered. “I am not questioning the contribution of anybody,” he said.
Cllr James Kelly said they would have to accept the democratic process but quoted William Jennings Bryan on the right minority later becoming the majority.