Council may discipline traffic warden for writing ‘under duress’ on parking ticket for blood donor vehicle

Aileen Hahesy

Aileen Hahesy

Carrick-on-Suir Town Council is considering taking disciplinary action against one of its traffic wardens over her decision to write the words “under duress” on a traffic fine she was required by Council management to issue to an Irish Blood Transfusion Service vehicle parked outside a blood clinic in the town.

Carrick-on-Suir based Labour Cllr Bobby Fitzgerald has condemned the decision of Town Council management to request traffic warden Marie Dunne to attend a disciplinary interview next week as “crazy” and “arrogant”.

He previously highlighted that the long serving warden was reluctant to issue €40 fines on two IBTS vehicles parked outside The Carraig Hotel on Main Street while a blood donations clinic was taking place in the hotel, and only did so under the instructions of Council management.

The issuing of the fines for parking without a ticket beyond the permitted free time on September 19 caused major controversy in Carrick-on-Suir and was widely reported in the media.

It was also the subject of heated debate at the October meeting of Carrick-on-Suir Town Council on Monday night in the wake of an agreement the Town Council reached with Carrick-on-Suir Business Association last week to allow one IBTS vehicle park for free on Main Street on blood clinic days with the Business Association footing the bill for other blood service vehicles in a nearby car park.

Following lengthy deliberations at the meeting, Town Clerk Michael O’Brien agreed to write to the IBTS outlining that the Council will consider allocating free parking spaces to its vehicles that for “compelling logistical reasons” required to be parked on Main Street while a blood clinic was taking place.

But the controversy reignited yesterday (Tuesday) when Cllr Fitzgerald revealed that Ms Dunne has been requested to attend a disciplinary interview at Carrick-on-Suir Town Hall next Monday morning.

Council man-agement is alleging that Ms Dunne wrote “inappropriate comments” on the parking tickets and according to Cllr Fitzgerald she has been informed the question of whether disciplinary action will be taken against her will be considered at the interview.

The county councillors said he was appalled by the Council’s decision to request Ms Dunne to attend a disciplinary interview.

“I think it’s crazy what is going on. It’s arrogance of the highest level,” he declared.

He said the comment “under duress” that she wrote on the fine was appropriate and regarded Ms Dunne’s judgement in the whole affair to be better than that shown by the Town Clerk Michael O’Brien.

The circumstances surrounding the issuing of parking fines was raised by Cllrs Pierce O’Loughlin and Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan at Monday’s Town Council meeting during a debate on Cllr O’Loughlin’s motion requesting the local authority to grant free parking in Carrick-on-Suir on days the IBTS blood clinics are in the town.

Cllr O’Loughlin said the people were “absolutely raging” over the fines and told Town Clerk Michael O’Brien he was “not coming out of this with a halo” and should apologise to the people of Carrick-on-Suir because the town’s image had been tarnished and set back 50 years.

“People in the town are saying you should be moved on because they are so angry about this,” he declared.

He added that the fact the traffic warden wrote the words “under duress” didn’t speak highly of management in the Council and warned that if the local authority continued on this course it would suck the life blood out of the town’s economy.

He argued that the Council should grant free parking in the entire town on blood clinic days and make those days “blood giving and shopping extravaganza days for Carrick”.

Cllr Cooney-Sheehan(FF) asked the Town Clerk to explain the circumstances of how the fines came to be issued given the reluctance of the traffic warden to impose the fines. She hoped it was just a bad judgement call, which everyone could make.

She described the public reaction to the issuing of the fines as “like a tsunami” and the story featured in the local and national media and even spread to overseas.

“It’s something we don’t want the town to be known for. If you saw an ambulance speeding you wouldn’t give it a speeding ticket and it’s the same way with the blood bank. If the vehicles were taking up spaces we could have approached it in a different manner,” she said.

Cllr Cooney-Sheehan also criticised Town Council management for reaching an agreement with the Business Association about the parking of IBTS vehicles in the town centre in the future without consulting the Council’s elected members.

Mayor of Carrick-on-Suir Cllr Liam Walsh, however, said the whole affair was caused by a lack of communication. He didn’t believe there would have been any issue if the IBTS had phoned the Town Hall informing the Council in advance to say it was coming to the town and required parking

While he understood why the IBTS’ blood donations unit should be parked for free outside the Town Hall, he didn’t have much sympathy for vehicles transporting IBTS staff as they were probably some of the highest paid people in the country.

Independent Cllr Patsy Fitzgerald was critical of the IBTS for “sitting back” and letting all this controversy go on around them and asked if it had written to the Council apologising for contravening the parking laws. He suggested the IBTS should have contacted the Town Council and requested free parking spaces.

Another Independent Cllr O’Neill said the Town Clerk had made a mistake but he didn’t like to hear people saying he should be moved on as he was doing a good job overall.

Town Clerk Michael O’Brien refused to comment on issues councillors raised in relation to the traffic warden. He said he had no intention of discussing matters involving staff at a public meeting.

When pressed further to do so, Acting Town Manager Jimmy Harney stepped in and said the Town Clerk was right. “If we start to discuss staff matters (at a public meeting) we will have problems with the unions and employees, he advised.

Mr O’Brien, meanwhile didn’t accept that Carrick-on-Suir had a bad reputation for parking as it was one of the few towns in the country to have 20 minutes free parking in the town centre.

On the agreement with COSBA, he said the association contacted him directly and proposed what he considered to be a reasonable solution. He didn’t see any reason why vehicles transporting people should be allowed park for free in the town. The IBTS was a public agency and its staff weren’t being required to pay for parking individually.

He also argued that councillors had requested more enforcement of the parking by-law at a recent traffic management workshop. Cllr O’Loughlin disputed this and declared that only one or two councillors had called for this.

Mr O’Brien also pointed out that there was a parking fines appeal system in place for people to avail of if they felt they were fined unfairly. In relation to Cllr O’Loughlin’s motion, he said there would be significant opposition to a day of free parking for the town as previous experience showed it didn’t bring people into the town and ony resulted in cars being parked on the Main Street all day

Cllr O’Loughlin’s motion was defeated by three votes to four with Cllrs Cooney-Sheehan and Martin Henzey the only members supporting him.

Cllr Margaret Croke tabled a second motion requesting the Council to allow the IBTS free parking spaces for two transporters outside the Carraig Hotel on blood clinic days.

She argued that the IBTS transporters carried a lot of equipment for the blood donor clinics as well as staff. Cllr Fitzgerald suggested the Town Clerk write to the IBTS outlining the procedure for notifying the Council of blood clinic days and that two parking passes would be allocated outside the hotel as a gesture of good will.

Mr O’Brien agreed to write to the IBTS outlining the procedure and said the Council would be prepared to consider a second free parking space for the IBTS on Main Street if there were “compelling logistical reasons” for it.