The Sinn Féin group on Donegal County Council say they are disgusted and outraged at the actions of the Fianna Fáil group of ten councillors, in passing this year’s Donegal County Council budget in the absence of the other 19 elected members.
They claimed FF’s actions “are an affront to democracy” in the county.
“As representatives of a political party that has presided over the economic calamity that the people of Donegal and the Irish state are enduring, we would have expected that Fianna Fáil councillors, of all the elected members, would have been most sensitive to the need to listen to the voice of others in arriving at a budget for 2010.
“Next year, Donegal County Council will have half the budget they had in 2007, dropping from over 440 million euro then to 220 million euro now. This is having a profound impact on the services provided by the council to the people of Donegal. Furthermore, the council has lost a quarter of its workforce in the last year, a loss of 300 jobs.
“This year, as is always the case, the Sinn Féin group went through the County Manager’s draft budget book in great detail. While the Manager had committed to reducing commercial rates as requested by all the elected members, Sinn Féin, like others, sought to reduce them further than the 3% cut suggested.
“At the budget meeting, we made the following proposals:
· Cut the member’s conference expenses from €5,000 per councillor down to €1,500 per councillor. Saving = €101,500.
· Cut overseas travel budget from €30,000 down to €10,000. Saving = €20,000.
· Cut members public lighting from €92,800 down to zero as the scheme has not functioned in recent years. Saving = €92,800.
· Increase the target for second home levy collection from 2.5 million euro to 3 million euro. Additional income = €500,000.
“This would have resulted in a further 3% cut in the commercial rate to that agreed by Fianna Fáil. With our proposals, commercial rates would have been reduced by at least 6%.
We also proposed the following to assist the council in generating extra revenue to the council for investment in the development of the county.
· Deliver on targeted savings from new procurement and purchasing system. Potential additional income = 2.4 to 2.8 million euro.
· Seek compensation for, or recovery of, exceptional pension costs due to Government policy on early retirement from Department of Finance. Potential additional income = 1 to 2 million euro.
After the presentations by council management and initial statements from the various political groupings on the council, we broke for lunch and it was agreed that we would reconvene the meeting and immediately adjourn to allow for discussions between the parties/ groupings.
Fianna Fáil chose to meet amongst them selves and the Sinn Féin group took up an invitation from the Fine Gael group to discuss their proposals.
As that meeting was constructive and some common ground was being found, we invited the Labour and Independent councillors to join us in the understanding that the Fianna Fáil group were still involved in their own meeting. Again, the extended group of 19 councillors were engaging on a constructive basis when we were interrupted to learn that the ten Fianna Fáil councillors had passed the budget in our absence on the technicality that a quorum of seven councillors is all that is required.
While we were working together with others in the best interests of the county, Fianna Fáil were pulling a stroke. However, they are only fooling themselves. The days of Fianna Fáil running this county on their own are over whether they realise that or not.
Over the Christmas period, the four Sinn Féin county councillors will be meeting with senior party members in the county to discuss our next steps. Serious questions will be put to the Fianna Fail group and in particular, Mayor Brendan Byrne on how they thought this could be justified. Clearly, Fianna Fáil are going to have to demonstrate that they are willing to work with others in mutual respect and undo the damage done by their outrageous actions.
They should not take ongoing Sinn Féin involvement in, and support for, the technical agreement over Mayors, Deputy Mayors, and some committee positions for granted. Sinn Féin’s priority on council is to represent those who voted for us, taking our rightful place at the table of collective decision making. We sought all inclusive powers sharing on the council after this years council elections and only entered into the technical agreement with Fianna Fáil, Labour, and Independent councillor Seamus O’ Domhnaill after we learned that Fine Gael were intent on keeping us out of the senior positions on council our numbers entitled us to. Following the exclusion of our party from virtually all council positions after the 2004 election, we were not going to meekly allow that to happen again. Our agreement does not extend beyond council positions. It is not a political pact. Indeed, Sinn Féin have led the fight in this county and on council against Government cutbacks and policy, delivering over 100, 000 leaflets in recent months.
At all times, Sinn Féin councillors will defend the rights of those who support us. Fianna Fáil attempted to deny those rights at the budget meeting. They will not succeed.
Cllrs Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Marie Therese Gallagher, Cora Harvey, and Mick Quinn.