Galway Advertiser 2005/2005_12_22/GA_2212_E1_028.pdf 

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December 22 2005

Labour councillors explain why once a month meeting time change is not suitable
Dear Editor, With reference to your front page story last week entitled "Fine Gael-Labour- Green Pact in crisis after stormy city council meeting" we would very much appreciate the right to reply and indeed to correct some inaccuracies. Firstly notwithstanding your quote unquote from Cllr Mulholland - we wish to clarify that neither Cllr Catherine Connolly nor indeed any Labour councillor spoke with the Mayor during the 10 minute adjournment nor indeed did we say that the pact was over unless Fine Gael voted for the Labour motion. Indeed as the air was fraught with tension we used the adjournment to take time out and spoke among ourselves. The reality is of course that if city council meetings proceed at 5pm then some of the Labour councillors will not be in the Chamber for crucial votes and therefore of course the pact will be in difficulty. Furthermore the Labour Party did not become disruptive simply because we couldn't get our own way. To understand our actions in not co-operating with the Mayor the background facts are extremely relevant: The city council meetings have taken place at night time for as long as one can remember, certainly from when Cllr Costello was first elected in 1991 and indeed we have been informed from the beginning of the re-organization of local government. The precise times and dates of the city council meetings are set at the annual meeting every year when the Mayor is elected. This is precisely what happened this year in June (as in all previous years) - when Mayor Brian Walsh was elected: it was agreed unanimously that the times and dates of the city council meetings would be at 7pm on the second and fourth Monday of each month with the exception of August. Subsequently within weeks-notwithstanding that agreement and arrangement -- the two meetings where reduced to one with a new commencement time of 5pm. This was totally against the wishes and votes of the Labour group but as it was for a trial period only until December we did our best to co-operate for the three months. The matter then came up for review at the city council meeting of December 12 last. Cllr Callanan, Sinn Fein, was first to speak to the motion and stated that the changed times were working perfectly and he proposed the arrangement continue, which was seconded by Cllr Mulholland, FG. The same councillors proposed and seconded the motion in the full knowledge that this would exclude some of the Labour councillors who worked until 6pm and these facts had already been conveyed to the councillors at a meeting held earlier in the day. The Labour position was then initially outlined by Cllr Catherine Connolly who expressed her anger that any councillor could so selfishly ignore the fact that one Labour councillor, who was also the Deputy Mayor, worked until 6pm and had effectively been excluded from the meetings todate. Moreover two other Labour councillors had had serious difficulties attending at 5pm. Notwithstanding same all had done their best to turn up for the trial period and had co-operated fully with the Mayor. Most importantly it was clarified that in our opinion it was vital that the public attendance at the city council meeting be facilitated in every way and that 5pm at peak traffic time was completely unsuitable. In this regard it was pointed out that 99 per cent of the city council business was effectively taking place on two very important committees, the Management Team Meetings and Corporate Policy Group meetings from which the public were excluded together with the Strategic Policy Committees all of which sit during the day. Indeed in relation to the SPCs it was pointed out that on the very day, the Parks Cultural and Recreation SPC had to be aborted because of the failure of any community representative to turn up, the day time quite clearly causing difficulty. In that context the Labour councillors emphasized the importance of holding the one main city council meeting where theoretically decisions are made -- at a time that would enable all the city councillors and equally importantly members of the public, to attend. Furthermore the very low percentage of women involved in politics, ie 13 per cent participation by women in politics nationally and 19 per cent locally was also highlighted by the Labour councillors, and it was further stated that it was totally unacceptable that two of the three female councillors out of a total of 15 councillors on the city council were effectively being excluded from the decision making process. Quite shockingly these facts, stark as they are, failed to impress the remaining 11 city councillors (10 of whom are male) and 5 pm and/or 6pm was put forward as the appropriate time. Following the short adjournment and in the absence of any consensus, Cllr Catherine Connolly proposed that the matter be put back until after Christmas but this was also not acceptable to the elected members. It was within the above context and background that the Labour councillors took the action not to co-operate, as effectively they were left with absolutely no other choice. Should the once a month meeting go ahead at the 5pm/6pm it is our view that the city council will be even less open to public scrutiny than currently is the case and certainly far more difficult to attract the ordinary PAYE worker both male and female into local politics. Yours, Cllr Catherine Connolly Cllr Tom Costello Cllr Billy Cameron Cllr Colette Connolly

Who do Labour think they're fooling with meeting time row?
Dear Editor, The latest furore over the meeting times at Galway city council is a ball of smoke. If I remember correctly, in the mid 90s, wasn't there a Labour councillor who used to come in from the islands to attend meetings and he made it. Simply, if people cannot get time off work to go to council meetings or if they cannot fit being a councillor into their work schedules, then they should not have volunteered to be councillors. It is not a vocation and I ask again and again, why is it OK for the county council and not the city council. Why is it OK for them and many other local authorities to meet in working hours and not long into the night when people are falling asleep and when it is past people's bedtimes? I want to be a golfer but it wouldn't suit me workwise. I also want to shop all day but the shops won't open late at night? Cop on city council and do what you were put in to do and don't be whinging about everything but the issues. You're a bloody disgrace. The worst ever. Yours, E Farrell, Doughiska, Galway

Meeting time change would be boost for local democracy
Dear Editor, With regard to the dispute over meeting times in Galway city council, I believe the debate is, at its core, a simple one. The new council times do not suit particular individuals, and these councillors are likely to be excluded from council meetings should the new timings continue. While many councillors are selfemployed and accordingly enjoy a great degree of flexibility in their lives, this is not true of all people. Ordinary workers with ordinary jobs cannot just change their working hours at a whim. To implement meeting times which are not accessible to ordinary people would be to render public office the exclusive preserve of those privileged enough to be self-employed. This would not be a healthy development for local democracy. I firmly believe that meetings should be held at a time accessible to all 15 elected councillors. Each councillor has a mandate from the electorate which deserves be respected and facilitated within reason. It is irresponsible and unacceptable for a majority to gang up on a minority for the sake of personal convenience or political opportunism. To assert that exclusion of councillors is satisfactory because it was carried out by majority vote is, in my mind, silly. Democratic processes involve a lot more than winner-takeall votes, and the exclusion of elected representatives is not consistent with the fundamental principles and spirit of democracy, which is that the people choose their representatives and all are represented. Would it be considered democratic, say, if a government majority of 51 per cent expelled opposition members from parliament? The stance of the Labour councillors in opposing the new meeting times is honourable, and shame upon all those who try to exploit the situation to smear the councillors or portray their actions negatively. The real obstructionists are those whose actions support the effective exclusion of elected public representatives from council meetings. This is demonstrating a flippant disregard and disrespect for the democratic choices of the people. Yours, Owen Feehan, 14 Hawthorn Place, Clybaun Road, Knocknacarra, Galway.

Where do councillors stand on air show funding?
Dear Editor, Members of the Irish Anti-War Movement were lobbying all Galway city councillors outside City Hall on Monday last before the council meeting. As they were to discuss and vote on the budget estimates, we were asking that they rescind the allocated funding of 15,000 for the Salthill Air Show if warplanes are to be included in the event next June. The Salthill Air Show hosts displays by American and British fighter jets and bombers, such as those currently on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan. The world is now a much less a safe place and to have displays by the air forces involved in the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq would send a clear message that our city supports their activities including slaughter, torture, use of chemical weapons and kidnappings. Shannon civilian airport currently has an international spotlight on its controversial role as the major US military hub in Europe for American troops to stop over, for refuelling their warplanes, allowing weapons to be transported through unchecked and even more sinister, facilitating CIA craft to move hostages to torture camps for "rendition". There is already enough damming publicity to make the west of Ireland a legitimate target for terrorists. To finance the participation of the warplanes in Salthill would be seen as condoning USA/UK atrocities. Such an insensitive and irresponsible decision can only increase fears that we too could become a target. We are not calling for a cancellation of the airshow but that it does not include military aircraft from the US and UK at this critical time. The IAWM members were asking that as a matter of urgency this matter be discussed in the chamber before voting on any agreement that includes the Salthill Air Show funding. We are now calling on each individual councillor to make it clear to the public of Galway where he/she stands on this issue. Yours, Jamie Murphy IAWM Millers Lane, Rahoon, Galway

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