CLARE County Council is to seek legal advice on the status of a behind-closed-doors in-committee meeting, held by West Clare county councillors, at which €50,000 of public money was allocated to two disability projects in Kilrush and Kildysart.
Both projects were granted €25,000 and details of the meeting and the decision made at it only emerged publicly at a West Clare Municipal District meeting this week.Since then, Clare County Council has said they are not in a position to release the minutes of the in-committee meeting until they receive “legal clarification on the status of the minutes”.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councillor Richard Nagle, who was unable to attend the contentious meeting on October 20, described the holding of the meeting as “reprehensible and regrettable”.
He queried why the meeting was held in private with the media absent. “Why was that meeting held in-committee? It was an issue deciding on the allocation of public money,” he stated.
Municipal area chairman, Councillor PJ Kelly, said he didn’t realise the October 20 meeting had been in-committee.
“It was only when I spoke to John Corry the other morning that I realised it was in-committee because the press wasn’t present,” Councillor Kelly said.
“The notice went out (to councillors) that it was in-committee. Was it in-committee or wasn’t it in-committee?” Councillor Nagle asked.
“I didn’t notice that to be quite honest with you. When I noticed the absence of the press, I realised it was in-committee. It certainly wasn’t my direction. I certainly didn’t personally order that it be in-committee,” Councillor Kelly insisted.
Stating he had “utmost confidence” in administrative officer John Corry, Councillor Nagle pointed out the minutes of the in-committee meeting were not on the agenda of this week’s meeting, where they could have been adopted.
“That’s the other error. Why is it not on the agenda? There was never a mention of holding an in-committee meeting and, secondly, I don’t believe that you can decide to call an in-committee meeting in advance. If people decide to go into committee they call a meeting and decide that at the meeting but not prior to the meeting. I would have thought that was quite specific in Standing Orders, so I’m somewhat amazed,” Councillor Nagle said.
Councillor Kelly said that because their October 13 meeting didn’t deal with the distribution of the €50,000, it was decided to hold a meeting the following week.
“The meeting in Ennis on October 13 ended rather quickly. I think you were first out the door councillor,” Councillor Kelly said to Councillor Nagle.
“John Corry brought it to our attention that we hadn’t dealt with the item, so we agreed that we’d hold a meeting at a convenient time. So we held that meeting on the morning of the (county) council meeting on October 20,” Councillor Kelly explained.
“I think everybody acted in good faith,” Councillor Christy Curtin maintained.
“I think we made a great decision and we shouldn’t be going back,” Councillor Gabriel Keating said in relation of the distribution of the €50,000.
“We have Standing Orders when it suits. What is the legal standing of that meeting?” Councillor Nagle asked.
Councillor Michael Hillery, who was abroad on the day of the meeting, suggested that the county council seek legal advice on the issue. This suggestion was seconded by Councillor Nagle and accepted by all eight councillors.