During a sometimes stormy debate at the September meeting of Donegal County Council, Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil councillors condemned government cuts to rural services, while the council’s Fine Gael whip criticised Sinn Féin for pursuing different policies on either side of the border.
A motion brought forward by Sinn Féin Cllr. Marie-Therese Gallagher called on council to condemn cuts to rural services and charges on rural families that came from the government’s austerity policies.
Fianna Fáil councillors disagreed when Liam Ward, as meetings administrator, determined the motion referred to national austerity measures, and was outside of the council’s authority. That limited the number of councillors who could speak on the motion.
Fianna Fáil Cllrs. Gerry Crawford, Patrick McGowan and Seamus Ó Domhnaill called for a broader discussion. Donegal Mayor, Labour Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr., called for order a number of times, rising from his chair and speaking over the Fianna Fáil councillors.
Cllr. Gallagher said she raised motion because people approached her daily to discuss the challenges they face.
She spoke of a woman whose local post office closed and now spends 15 euro each way on transportation to collect her pension.
She said, “We spoke to local gardaí and they’ve told us they do not have the resources to successfully deal with the problem they have in rural areas,” and asked for the issue to be placed on the agenda of the next Donegal Joint Policing Committee meeting.
“Austerity is having a huge effect on rural dwellers and their services, and always rural services will be the first to be cut,” Cllr. Gallagher said.
Cllr. Crawford said the availability of services in rural Ireland cannot be compared to their availability in cities.
“There is no comparison when 85 million is given to CIE and 50,000 euro is withdrawn from the hospital transport in rural Ireland. There is no comparison in Dublin when they ring for a garda in this part of rural Ireland and get no reply,” he said.
Sinn Féin party whip, Cllr. Mick Quinn, said, “We need the assistance of state services, all state services, to ensure our people are protected from attacks happening on rural Ireland in the last couple of years.”
He said there has been little or no government money for job creation. “We need to create jobs in rural Ireland, in Donegal, to give people the opportunity to provide for themselves and for their communities,” he said.
Independent Cllr. Terence Slowey said, “I don’t think anybody likes cuts”, but urged people to register their septic tanks under the government programme.
He said people can register on line for 5 euro until the end of September, and said the registration requirement came from a European directive.
“This is not about money, this is about health,” he said. Cllr. Slowey said he believed only a small minority of septic tanks would be found not to be working correctly.
Independent Cllr. John Campbell, active in the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign against household, septic tank and water charges, said, “I think Terence is expressing a personal view and not speaking on behalf of independents.”
Mayor McBrearty drew laughter from across the chamber when he said, “I didn’t bring you together, you brought yourselves together. So you are in bed now, lie in it.”
Speaking on behalf of Fine Gael, the party whip, Cllr. Barry O’Neill, called the motion, “the new approach in the blame game” for Sinn Féin. He said Sinn Féin politicians in the north have put through the same types of cuts that the party’s politicians protest in the south.
“Excuse me, the motion is about rural Ireland, it’s not about Sinn Féin,” Sinn Féin Cllr. Cora Harvey said. Cllr. Gallagher raised a point of order with Mayor McBrearty, saying Cllr. O’Neill was not addressing the motion.
“If you can’t take the heat,” Cllr. O’Neill said. “I can take the heat,” Cllr. Gallagher said.
“Well shut up then,” Cllr. O’Neill said. There were murmurs from other councillors and Mayor McBrearty asked Cllr. O’Neill to withdraw his comments. He did.
Cllr. O’Neill said, “This country collapsed following Fianna Fáil being in power.” He said there will be consequences for Ireland if the country does not pay its debt, and said the government, “has tough choices to make”.
“The Fine Gael/Labour government was handed a straightjacket 18 months ago,” Cllr. O’Neill said.
Mayor McBrearty also rang the bell several times when Cllr. O’Neill went over time.
“I’ve only started,” Cllr. O’Neill said. Again referring to Sinn Féin, he said, “What they’re doing in the north is the opposite to what they’re preaching here.”
In her summing up, Cllr. Gallagher said her motion was about people. “This is people’s mothers and fathers, grannies and grandparents.”
“This government have choices. They can choose not to pay unsecured bondholders,” Cllr. Gallagher said. She added, “They are not choosing to protect the people who are most vulnerable and need it the most.”
The councillor said she was pleased no one had put up a counter proposal and that the motion was agreed. “I think that speaks volumes for the nonsense that’s after going on in here.”
Cllr. O’Neill suggested Sinn Féin “put the same motion down in Stormont.”