Louth County Council have passed their 2021 Budget at a re-adjourned meeting in Dundalk on Thursday evening – in which the decision to deny Ardee a large chunk of their discretionary budget for next year was reversed after sustained criticism of the move in the last few days.
Cllr Conor Keelan – who proposed the amendment to distribute the discretionary budget across the three districts in the county based on size, rather than an equal amount each – performed a climb down and expressed his willingness to withdraw the amendment, for now.
Party whip Liam Reilly proposed the move to withdraw the amendment. It was seconded by Cllr Emma Coffey.
The amendment was carried during Monday’s first Budget meeting – meaning all councillors had to vote to remove it on Thursday. All 28 present councillors – Fianna Fáil’s Andrea McKevitt was absent – voted to reverse Monday’s decision.
There was also a small piece of history made during Thursday’s Budget meeting as for the first time a councillor – Cllr James Byrne – took part and voted in a full council meeting in Louth via video conference.
It is understood during a Fianna Fáil party video conference call on Wednesday, a decision was taken to withdraw the amendment that was carried during Monday’s meeting – and thus vote on a Budget that includes a €225,000 discretionary budget, split equally three ways between the Ardee, Dundalk and Drogheda districts.
A decision was also made by Sinn Féin members to change their stance on the amendment. On Monday, all five present Sinn Féin councillors voted for the amendment to be carried. However, this evening (Thursday), all present party members voted in support of the withdrawal of the amendment.
Sinn Féin’s sole representative on the Ardee Municipal District Pearse McGeough came under fire on Monday after he voted along party lines to carry to the amendment – and thus deny his own constituency of just short of €29,000 in discretionary money.
The withdrawal of the amendment first tabled by Cllr Keelan is an embarrassing climbdown, for the councillor in particular, after his amendment was passed by 12-11 votes on Monday. It was viewed as a sizeable result for the Dundalk Municipal District, who would have seen their discretionary funding boosting by over €25,000.
Drogheda Borough Council’s coffers would have increased slightly, but Ardee was the big loser. Cllr Keelan had 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 have seen Dundalk get just over €100,000, Drogheda receive €77,586 and Ardee get €46,551 – a reduction of 38% in the annual budget.
Following the decision to remove the amendment to distribute the discretionary money based on number of councillors, a vote was then taken on the full Budget for 2021. That vote passed by by 20 votes to eight. All seven Sinn Féin members and Independent Maeve Yore voted against the Budget.
As per the Local Government Act, if councillors had failed to adopt a council budget, they risk having their statutory powers removed.