The election of the first ever chairperson of Tipperary Co. Council produced the new local authority’s first political row after Sinn Fein branded the three independents, who voted for FG Cllr Michael Fitzgerald as “mercenaries”.
Sinn Fein also slammed the voting pact that elected Cllr Fitzgerald chairman as “deeply dishonest” to the county’s voters and an attempt to “monopolise power” on the Council.
The Cashel/Tipperary Municipal District poll topper from Golden defeated his rival Independent Cllr Joe Hannigan from Kilbarron by 24 votes to 16 at the united Council’s historic first annual meeting in Holycross Community Hall last Friday morning.
Fianna Fail Cllr John Carroll from Nenagh was elected unopposed as vice-chairperson of the Council after being proposed by party colleagues Cllr Roger Kennedy and seconded by Cllr Mattie Ryan.
Cllr Fitzgerald was proposed as chairperson by FG Cllr Michael Murphy and seconded by FG Cllr John Crosse, and was voted in by a voting pact of 10 Fine Gael and 10 Fianna Fail councillors, Labour Cllr Fiona Bonfield, Mullinahone Independent Cllr Eddie O’Meara and two Independents aligned to Michael Lowry TD, his son Micheál Lowry from Holycross and Willie Kenneddy from Borrisoleigh.
Nenagh Municipal District poll topper Cllr Hannigan, who is well known as chairman of Tipperary Football Board, was proposed for the Council chair by Seamus Morris of Sinn Fein, seconded by Clonmel WUAG Cllr Pat English and received the votes of a rainbow alliance of 11 independent councillors and five Sinn Fein councillors.
Before the vote, the Sinn Fein group flexed their political muscles by proposing that the Council adopt the D’Hondt system for electing co. council and municipal districts chairpersons and vice chairpersons.
Under this system, the poll topper from each municipal district would become chairperson of the county council over its five-year lifetime, with the first chairperson coming from the area with the largest electorate, namely Nenagh MD where Cllr Hannigan topped the poll..
In proposing Cllr Hannigan, Cllr Seamus Morris said the d’Hondt system was a “very fair and equitable” system that would get rid of the “old politics” being proposed by Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour and a few “mercenary” independents, which the people rejected in the election.
He said the voting pact was deeply dishonest to the people who voted in the County Council election for Sinn Fein and independents in more and more numbers. Some of these councillors topped the poll in their areas.
He denounced the voting pact as an attempt to “monopolise power” on the new Council and claimed it was “very divisive” for the new local authority.
Cllr Morris pointed out that the d’Hondt system had been adopted by Cork City and Dublin City Councils and should be in use throughout this county.
After the election of Cllr Fitzgerald, Cllr Eddie O’Meara voiced his objection to Cllr Morris’s description of the Independents, who joined the voting pact, as “mercenaries”.
He shot back: “If Cllr Morris wants to call me mercenary for supporting a friend of 35 years then I am, but if you are talking about the type of mercenaries your party was in the habit of dealing with, then I am not.”
Cllr O’Meara argued there wasn’t anyone more qualified than Cllr Fitzgerald on the Council to be its first chairman.
FF Cllr Seamus Hanafin called on Cllr Morris to withdraw the “mercenary” comment.
But Cllr Morris stood by the remark. Speaking to The Nationalist after the meeting, he accused the three independents who joined the voting pact of “selling their souls” against the electorate’s wishes.
He said in the county council election the people rejected the “old politics” of undemocratic voting pacts, but the voting pact formed to elect the chairperson went against that mandate.
“The election of chairperson only rubber stamped what happened in backrooms up and down Tipperary in the week between the election and the annual meeting with deals being done that were against the wishes of the people,” he said.
He said that Cllr O’Meara would have to look at his own actions. “He was on Tipp FM on Friday morning saying that on the doorsteps, voters told him Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail had caused serious dereliction to the people of Tipperary, yet within 20 minutes, he was turning around and supporting them.”
He added that the Sinn Fein group would continue to campaign every year for the d’Hondt system to be adopted for selecting Council chairpersons and vice-chairpersons.
Cllr O’Meara responded that supporting the FF/FG/Lab voting pact was a totally different issue to supporting those parties’ performance in government. “We have to have a stable county council. If we go by Cllr Morris’ route, the Council will be abolished in January because it will fail to get its budget through. This has nothing to do with government policy. It’s everything to do with the stability of the county to enable it realise its full potential.”