As protestors from across Donegal vented their feelings inside Lifford’s County Council offices yesterday about corruption and cronyism in Ireland – the specific one lighting the fuse relating to controversial Donegal Councillor John O’Donnell – archaic rules, procedural confusion and tribalism prevented members expelling the Kilmacrennan-Fianna Fail linked man from all committees and the full council.
Anachronistic rules meant a counter proposal for what could well be a very long and drawn out ethics investigation by council executives superseded an initial proposal to expel O’Donnell immediately.
At times, the meeting, which was hosted by chairperson, Fianna Fail’s Ciaran Brogan, with the assistance of council executive Liam Ward and Seamus Neely, council chief executive, took on a farcical nature, with some describing it as a ‘dogs-dinner.’ During a discussion in which some councillors were attempting to expel O’Donnell – one of the most controversial decisions the council has faced in its entire history – confusion reigned, some members being unsure which proposal they were actually being asked to vote on. This caused Sinn Fein councillor, Marie Therese Gallagher, to ask the chair for immediate clarification.
Saying O’Donnell’s alleged ‘cash for favors’ actions caught last month on RTE national Irish TV camera were ‘disgraceful’, former Mayor Frank McBrearty (Independent) proposed removing O’Donnell from all committees, a motion seconded by fellow independent John Campbell.
“Due to the serious allegations against Councillor O’Donnell, we have the power to stand together and take action against him,” McBrearty said. “The public demands transparency and responsibility. There is a need to highlight corruption wherever it shows itself. As all politics is local, what we do here affects the nation so we have the chance to give a clear signal to the people of this county that we will not tolerate unethical behavior. The mushroom is getting bigger for Irish society. We must stop the rot now.”
However, a second, counter motion, by former Fianna Fail member, now long-time Independent councillor, Ian McGarvey, requested an ethics investigation be continued by council staff was also forwarded. Afterwards, during a conversation with me, McGarvey said he did not know how long such a process could take.
Confusion also reigned as Ward and Neely said legal advisers had told them O’Donnell could not be expelled from the council or its committees, but when asked for the legal documents proving this the two officials did not produce them. Neither did they bring into the chamber the legal adviser responsible for the advice when asked to do so by McBrearty.
According to Ward’s own instructions, there is “no specific provision within Local Government Legislation to provide for the removal of a member from committees to which he/she was appointed.” He added, “the position being taken is that the Motion as proposed (by McBrearty) is not permissable and, as a consequence, any resolution passed on foot of it would have no legal effect. The current process under the ethical framework should be allowed to continue until conclusion when the matter may come back before the members in one form or another.”
Some local government procedural analysts deem “illogical,” the situation whereby Chamber rules meant councillors were asked by Brogan to vote on the counter motion ahead of the original one put forward by McBrearty. That counter motion was ultimately accepted by 20 of the 36 councillors present, the votes representing Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labor and several Independents, mostly former members of Fianna Fail. All Sinn Fein members supported McBrearty’s motion. Independent Councillor Dessie Shiels was absent, having refused on principle to be in the same room as O’Donnell. Councillors McBride and Brogan abstained. Campbell and fellow Independent Councillor Michael Cholm Mac Giolla Easbuig promptly walked out of the meeting in protest saying, “this council has let down the people of Donegal and should be deeply ashamed.”
Added Councillor Gallagher, “I feel debased by O’Donnell and the opinions of some people about what he has done. He has brought disgrace to this chamber. My view is that as he was voted on to committees by council members, they have the right to vote him off them. It is a shame Frank McBrearty’s motion did not pass. This council had the opportunity to expel him and did not take it and now we have to wait until March to discuss it again.”
Protestors, men and women both inside and outside the chamber, said they were “disgusted by the council’s behaviour” adding, “our elected officials have failed to take proper action to stem an ugly, pervasive growing tide of corruption and cronyism sweeping across both this county and this country detrimentally affecting families, the elderly and children.”
Full story with photos and extended quotes coming up later today.