Dolores Minogue, Cathaoirleach of Louth County Council, says she was “looking forward to supporting the budget” before Fianna Fáil councillor Conor Keelan’s amendment was passed, meaning the Ardee Municipal District lost 38% of their discretionary budget for 2021.
The amendment by Cllr Keelan, which saw the Dundalk budget increased by 33% and the Drogheda budget rise by 3.5%, was narrowly passed by members at Louth County Council’s contentious Budget 2021 meeting in Dundalk on Monday.
However, with a number of councillors unhappy with the move to vastly reduce the funding available for projects in Ardee, the Budget was not passed. As it transpired, a tied vote of 12-12 led to Cllr Minogue, who was quick to air her disapproval of the move, casting the deciding vote.
Speaking after the meeting, she told LouthNow.ie that she was unhappy how the amendment was put to members so late in proceedings – as due to Covid-19 restrictions, all statutory meetings are capped at one hour and 50 minutes in length.
“It was a bitter affair. It was too big of a decision to make in 10 minutes,” she said, alluding to the time remaining in the meeting when Cllr Keelan put forward his amendment. It should be noted this was the earliest opportunity over the course of the unusually short budget meeting that the Dundalk-based representative could have brought the matter to the attention to other members.
“It was a pity it wasn’t flagged with all councillors so we could debate it. We had a month since our last meeting. It could have been teased out. It’s not the budget I have an issue with. Fianna Fáil are trying to throw Ardee and mid-Louth under the bus.”
While fellow Dundalk Municipal District councillors Sean Kelly and Andrea McKevitt voted for the amendment to pass, Dromiskin’s Liam Reilly and Drogheda councillor James Byrne voted against – as did Fianna Fáil councillor John Sheridan, who represents the Ardee Municipal District.
Both Reilly and Byrne subsequently voted to pass the Budget anyway, whereas Sheridan voted against in protest at the move to deny Ardee the full €75,000 discretionary budget, as laid out in the budget.
“The Chief Executive and the team produced a fair budget, in strange times of Covid. I was happy enough with the budget overall. I was looking forward to supporting the budget,” Cllr Minogue told us.
“In the overall budget, there is much more money being spent in those areas – Dundalk and Drogheda.
“The discretionary budget – Dundalk, Drogheda and Ardee treated equally – has worked very well over the last six years. Us in Ardee have agreed to spend it as a group for the common good of the area.
She will chair the adjourned meeting on Thursday when councillors and executives will meet again to thrash out a Budget. If they don’t, they risk having their statutory powers removed. But the Ardee-based councillor, remains unhappy with Ardee’s treatment.
“It was in bad taste. It came to a new low. To disenfranchise one part of our county to enhance another, we certainly didn’t need that seeping in. We are one county trying to do the best for our communities.
“I couldn’t stand over the budget. At the end of the day, this is taxpayer’s money. The fact that our colleagues took almost €30,000 off us with the stroke of pen so to speak, is very disappointing.”
WHAT IS THE DISCRETIONARY BUDGET?
Click below for an explainer on what exactly a council’s discretionary budget is.
Monday 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.
In the last two years, councillors in Ardee have agreed to pool their annual discretional budget to spend on a variety of projects in the the mid Louth area. Projects have included a pilot scheme for the installation of thumb locks and non-recording CCTV in the homes of vulnerable and elderly people and the rollout of a Text Alert system.
Other spends include on a refurbishment of the Tierney/O’Carroll monument, the provision of a new toilet in Ardee Library, periodic speed measures at schools in the district.
In recent years, each district received an equal sum per year to spend as agreed by councillors on each body.