Donegal county councillors are continuing deliberations on the draft revenue budget for 2014.
Councillors reconvened their budget meeting at 1pm today, but have sat adjourned since about 2.20pm. On the table is a proposal from Fine Gael that would cut commercial rates by 5 per cent, among other amendments. The meeting reconvened after its third adjournment today at 5pm. Councillors are now receiving information from County Manager Seamus Neely on the transfer of water services to Irish Water.
The draft 138 million euro revenue budget would keep commercial rates and water charges at 2013 levels.
Donegal Mayor, independent Cllr. Ian McGarvey, had lectured councillors on their behaviour earlier in the meeting, after Fianna Fáil requested a 10-minute adjournment following disruptions in the chamber. Fianna Fáil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan had complained about allegations being made against his colleagues and suggested that if that continued, they would need gardaí in the chamber for the protection of members. Before he made his remarks, independent Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr. had made comments in the direction of Fianna Fáil councillors.
“It’s a shambles what’s going on, mayor, and you have an obligation to do something about it,” Cllr. Brogan said.
When the meeting resumed, Mayor McGarvey told councillors, “I want no remarks across the floor from anyone.
The mayor said, “It annoys me somewhat to hear snide remarks made across this floor by anybody to anybody,” he said. He asked his council colleagues to “consider the authority given to you to act on behalf of the people of this county”, adding that the budget meeting had been sitting for three days, “and we have made no progress whatsoever”.
“If we have business to do, let’s try to discuss it and let’s try to come to an agreement,” Mayor McGarvey said.
Earlier, independent Cllr. John Campbell had said that the Fine Gael proposal for a cut in commercial rates, a 200,000 euro county-wide tourism and marketing fund and other items, would leave a 1.5 million euro deficit in the draft budget. Calling on Fine Gael to withdraw the proposal, Cllr. Campbell cautioned councillors that elected members who voted for the proposal could legally be surcharged for the shortfall and disqualified for council membership if the surcharge were not discharged.
Sinn Féin Cllr. Mick Quinn asked the council executive for clarity on the matter. “If there is a potential and clearly there does seem to be a potential for a surcharge being charged against people who vote for a budget that is clearly not going to be balanced, then I think it is important the executive give clarity on it,” he said.
But Fine Gael Cllr. Bernard McGuinness said what the party had done was present council with a list of items they would like to see in the budget, “no more or no less”.
“How that is achieved will be a matter for us working together with the executive and with other parties, if they wish to do so,” Cllr. McGuinness said. He said Irish Water issues were questions for Dáil Éireann and not the county council.
Cllr. Brogan said Fianna Fáil councillors were still awaiting responses from the council executive to the discussion document they had provided them about 26 hours earlier. He said the party was also waiting for clarification on questions they raised about the transfer of water services to Irish Water. The party also sought a copy of the water services act signed by the president late last year and the service level agreement the council signed with Irish Water.
Sinn Féin Cllr. Gary Doherty asked why Fine Gael had waited so long to present what he characterised as “a wish list”. Fine Gael Cllr. Barry O’Neill had presented the proposals at about 10pm on Monday. Cllr. Doherty said that if the list had been presented earlier, councillors could have discussed it earlier.
“You’re not wet behind the ears yet,” Cllr. McGuinness said to Cllr. Doherty, who was co-opted on to the council in November to succeed former Sinn Féin councillor, Cora Harvey. Cllr. McGuinness rejected the characterisation of the proposals as a wish list and said it was custom for parties to present proposals and then work to find funds in the budget to support them.
“Cllr. McGuinness, you said at the start it was a wish list,” Cllr. Doherty said, adding, “I think you’ll find it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here. My opinion is just as valid as yours.”
Labour Cllr. Martin Farren said his proposals to the county manager were similar to the budget adjustments Fine Gael was proposing. He said that he would also like to retain the public services centre in the area. “We can play politics here all day,” but added, “We should be working together to ensure we pass this budget.”
This is the third day of council deliberations on the 2014 draft revenue budget: Councillors met first on Dec. 18th, but adjourned that meeting until yesterday, Jan. 6th. Yesterday’s session was adjourned at 10.40pm