There was an air of harmony at Friday’s Donegal County Council AGM, where independent Cllr. John Campbell was elected council cathaoirleach and independent Cllr. Nicholas Crossan was elected leas-cathaoirleach.
The election was agreed by all groupings at Friday’s AGM.
Councillors also agreed an inclusive rotation of the cathaoirleach and leas-cathaoirleach posts over the five-year life of the council. Under the agreement, independents will hold the seats in the 2014-2015 council year; Fianna Fáil councillors will hold the seats in 2015-2016; Fine Gael will hold them in 2016-2017; Sinn Féin in 2017-2018; and Fianna Fáil again in 2018-2019.
The decision followed what Fianna Fáil Cllr. Ciaran Brogan said had been a number of days of intensive negotiations among the groupings on council.
Representatives of Fianna Fáil, independents, Sinn Féin, Fine Gael and Labour met at the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny on Thursday to continue talks, in a lengthy session of discussions that lasted until after 4am on Friday.
The negotiations continued later on Friday as well. The council AGM was adjourned three times after its scheduled 11am start on Friday to allow for further talks within and among groupings. When councillors finally began the business of the meeting at about 3.15pm, they got through the agenda without disagreement.
After the agreement was reached, outgoing Donegal Mayor, independent Cllr. Ian McGarvey, said, “I am delighted to see that we have today arrived at a point where we will have an inclusive council.”
Cllr. McGarvey said that there had been friction and conflict within the council, and he said he would be delighted to see that end.
After his election, Cllr. Campbell walked around the council meeting room, shaking hands with councillors and senior council staff before taking his seat at the top table.
In his remarks, Cllr. Campbell first thanked the independents for their support. He said there were about eight members of council who only had a few hours of sleep the night before because of the long negotiations.
“We’ve had a couple of tough days,” he said, adding, “I’m absolutely shattered.”
The new cathaoirleach told the 37 members of Donegal County Council that a theme for his year in the chair will be brevity, and he was “hoping that other councillors will follow that”.
Cllr. Campbell said he will be “keeping things as brief and concise as possible”, and said he hoped that was something everyone would work toward, saying he believed it would be a step toward a more efficient council.
He thanked councillors who took part in negotiations, saying it was “an enormous piece of work”, and acknowledged the mandate given to all 37 councillors.
The cathaoirleach said another theme to his year as mayor would be to try and continue the work former mayor, independent Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr., carried out during his 2012-2013 year as mayor, in highlighting the issue of mental health.
Councillors from all groupings pledged their support to the new chairperson.
Speaking on behalf of the Fianna Fáil party, Cllr. Brogan said to Cllr. Campbell, “Everyone has seen the commitment you give to public office and today is a very high honour for you and your grouping.”
Calling it, “a new dawn for Donegal County Council,” Cllr. Brogan said, “No one should underestimate what we’ve achieved here in the last days.”
Speaking on behalf of Fine Gael, Cllr. Barry O’Neill said that not only over the days of negotiations, but over months and years Cllr Campbell has “proven to be a very, very good public representative, not alone for your home parish but for the county as a whole”.
In his remarks, Cllr. Crossan said he believed the agreement councillors achieved, “is one of the best deals that Donegal County Council could have wished for”.