BROAD power sharing of positions of responsibility on Clare County Council between the various political groupings will almost certainly continue over the next five years, although a final agreement has yet to be reached.
Talks on how positions, including those of mayor and deputy mayor, are to be allocated began on Tuesday of last week and were continuing on Wednesday evening, with another meeting slated for Thursday morning.
It is hoped an agreement will have been reached by the time the new council holds its first meeting this Friday afternoon.
Following the local elections, Fianna Fáil has 12 seats, Fine Gael eight, Independents seven and Sinn Féin one.
For the purposes of the negotiations, two representatives from Fine Gael, two from Fianna Fáil and two representing Independents/Sinn Féin are in discussions. Wednesday was the ninth time they met.
It is understood one of the main stumbling blocks is due to Fine Gael and Independents/Sinn Féin having the same amount of seats. Apparently, both want their representatives to hold the position of mayor twice in the coming years.
As the biggest party, it is understood that Fianna Fáil will hold the position of mayor for two of the next five years, and the speculation is that Bill Chambers and Tom McNamara will be given the nod. For Fine Gael, John Crowe is set to hold the chain at some point, while the two favoured Independents are believed to be James Breen and Michael Begley.
In the negotiations, the Independent/Sinn Féin group have been represented by Gerry Flynn and Christy Curtin; Fine Gael by John Crowe and Joe Cooney and Fianna Fáil by Richard Nagle and Tom McNamara.
On Wednesday evening, Councillor Curtin delivered a message on behalf of all those involved. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and negotiations are ongoing. The six representatives in negotiations are totally committed to the delivery of a cohesive and a united service to the people of Clare in a power-sharing agreement. They are hopeful that agreement will be in place to facilitate that for Friday’s meeting.”
As well as mayor and deputy mayor, other positions, such as head of strategic policy committees, have payments attached but these are set to be cut from now on. All such positions also form part of the negotiations.
Up until now, the mayor has received €27,000 a year but a new cap of €20,000 per annum is being introduced. The deputy mayor received an annual payment of €9,000 over the past number of years but from now on, the maximum will be €4,000.
The chairmen of the council’s strategic policy committees will continue to be paid €6,000 per annum. The chair of the Ennis Municipal District will be paid €12,000 per annum, while the chairs of the Killaloe, Shannon and West Clare Municipal Districts will get allowances of €6,000 per annum.
The municipal districts were not previously in place, so these are new allowances. Payments to mayors of town councils have disappeared, as have the bodies they sat on.
The annual representational payment will remain at €16,724 per annum, while allowance for attendance at council meetings will remain as it is and is dependent on the distance a member is from the council headquarters. In the past, councillors had an allocation of €4,700 per annum for attendance at conferences and seminars, but this is now reduced to €700. Additional payments will be available for attendance at approved training sessions.
Councillor Pat Daly held the position of mayor during the lifetime of the last council. He said money wasn’t his motivation for taking on the role. “It’s a great honour to be Mayor of Clare, irrespective of what money you get. It’s the proudest part of a career on the county council. You won’t make money while you are mayor; you’re going to functions all over the country at your own expense.”
Councillor Curtin also held the role. He said while being mayor makes for a very hectic year, the current financial position cannot be ignored. “I attended 150 functions and covered 50,000km the year I was mayor. I also went to New York and I paid for that out of my own pocket. It’s an expensive role to perform properly. At the same time, we have to be cognisant of the current economic climate.”
He feels other elected politicians should also be making sacrifices. “We all appreciate that everyone is hurting and we have to make sacrifices. But I’d like to see it from the top down, TDs, senators and all, the whole lot, that’s where I’d be coming from,” he said.
Fine Gael’s Johnny Flynn said he believes reducing expenditure in this area will prove popular with voters. “I believe the general public will welcome cost reductions because everyone has been impacted by the economic downturn. With reduced public funds and property tax, people want to see where the money is going and they want better value for money.”