Councillors in Ardee will lose almost €30,000 from their annual discretionary budget next year after a split vote in the Louth County Council chamber was narrowly won by a group of councillors who want to change the way funding is distributed among the districts.
In effect, they have voted to reduce the money earmarked for Ardee from €75,000 to just over €46,500 while boosting the respective coffers of Dundalk and Drogheda.
The council members met in Dundalk on Monday for their annual budget meeting, a meeting which ended in contentious fashion when it was voted to reduce the allocation of funding afforded to the Ardee Municipal District, and simultaneously boost the funding for the Dundalk Municipal District and Drogheda Borough Council.
The council budget for 2021 was subsequently not passed, after a roll call vote ended in a tie, with Cathaoirleach Dolores Minogue casting the deciding vote against passing the budget.
It followed an angry exchange after the previous vote in which the majority of councillors voted that the standard practice for equal distribution of discretionary funds was abandoned.
In recent years, each district received an equal sum of €75,000 per year to spend as agreed by councillors on each body. However, an amendment to the proposed 2021 Budget as put forward by Fianna Fáil councillor Conor Keelan suggested that the total discretionary pot of €225,000 should be distributed based on population and how many council seats each district holds.
The 29-person Louth County Council consists of 13 Dundalk Municipal District members, 10 members of Drogheda Borough Council and six in the Ardee Municipal District. Under Cllr Keelan’s proposal, the share of the €225,000 would see Dundalk get just over €100,000, Drogheda receive €77,586 and Ardee get €46,551 – a reduction of 38% in the annual budget.
The budget put forward by council Chief Executive Joan Martin proposed that the three districts received €75,000, but the amendment passed by 12 votes to 11, with one abstention – Labour councillor for Drogheda Fiachra McRaghnaill.
There were tense exchanges as the issue played out in St Gerard’s Hall in Dundalk, a temporary home to the monthly council meetings for social distancing purposes.
Unlike many other votes taken in the council over the years, this was largely absent of the traditional voting among party lines as councillors instead acted to do what they saw as best by their own constituencies.
There were geographical splits among the Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and Independent ranks while Cllr McRaghnaill’s choice to abstain from the vote may have proved costly for Ardee. His Labour colleague Pio Smith voted against the change.
The only party to vote in a bloc was Sinn Fein and interestingly, one of their votes to lower the funding for Ardee was Cllr Pearse McGeough, a councillor in the Ardee area since 2004. Of Sinn Fein’s seven councillors, six represent the Dundalk and Drogheda areas.
There were angry exchanges before and after the vote. While Cllr Keelan’s amendment has been made to the Budget, the follow-up vote to pass the Budget was defeated courtesy of Cllr Minogue’s casting vote. This means the Budget has yet to be adopted but that appears a formality in its current form.
/ HOW THEY VOTED
How councillors voted on Cllr Conor Keelan’s amendment to Budget 2021, proposing that the €75,000 budget distributed equally to each district in Louth be instead split up based on population/representation.
As per the Local Government Act, if councillors fail to adopt a council budget, they risk having their statutory powers removed. The councillors will meet again on Thursday evening (November 19) to try and thrash out an agreement.
The Local Government Act reads: “The failure to adopt a budget and determine an annual rate on valuation is a clear contravention of council’s statutory functions.
“In such a case where the budget meeting has closed and the members of the local authority have not adopted a budget, the Minister, by order can remove from office the members of a local authority if and whenever a local authority refuses or wilfully neglects to comply with any other express requirement which is imposed on it by or under any enactment including this Act (Local Government 2001).”
Today was not the first time that Dundalk Urban representative Cllr Keelan was expressed his dismay at the decision to give out an equal amount of funding to the three districts operating within Louth, having previously outlined that population size should be considered.
“I am opposed to districts receiving the same amount irrespective of population. Population should be a pre-determined factor in how funds are allocated, rather than geography. This is fair,” he told the meeting today.
Only five of the six Ardee Municipal District councillors were present at the Budget meeting – with Fine Gael’s MEP designate Colm Markey not in attendance. He would likely have voted to keep the budgets at €75,000 each, a vote which again would have left Cllr Minogue with the deciding vote.
She was one of several councillors in the chambers who aired their dismay afterwards that Ardee had been hit so badly by the move.
/ HOW THEY VOTED
How councillors voted on whether or not to pass Louth County Council’s Budget 2021.
In Favour (12) – Marianne Butler, James Byrne, Kevin Callan, Maria Doyle, Conor Keelan, Sean Kelly, Andrea McKevitt, Paddy McQuillan, Declan Power, John Reilly, Liam Reilly, Eileen Tully.
Against (12) – Joanna Byrne, Hugh Conlon, Tom Cunningham, Pearse McGeough, Fiacha McRaghnaill, Dolores Minogue*, Tomas Sharkey, John Sheridan, Pio Smith, Jim Tenanty, Antoin Watters, Maeve Yore.
Absent (5) – Edel Corrigan, Emma Coffey, Michelle Hall, Colm Markey, Kevin Meenan.
*As Cathaoirleach (Chairperson), Cllr Minogue had the deciding vote. The Budget was not passed.
Ms Martin strongly urged the assembled councillors to work out their differences and iron out any issues they have have in adopting the budget before Thursday’s reconvening as the budget plan would have to be adopted in any case.
“I have nothing new to add to this. This issue that has arisen, you have to sort it out between yourselves,” she said.