Michael Fisher, The Northern Standard, Thursday 13th June p.10
Councillor Sean Conlon of Sinn Féin was elected as Cathaoirleach of the Monaghan Municipal District at their annual general meeting on Monday, the start of a new five-year term for the seven members. But the process was not entirely smooth.
Independent Councillor Paudge Connolly who had stormed out of a County Council meeting on Friday made a further complaint to his colleagues about the way they were dividing up the posts. He complained that they were not treating himself and his Independent colleague Seamus Treanor fairly.
Co-ordinator Donal McElwain took the Chair and after congratulating all members on their election, he called for nominations for Cathaoirleach. Councillor Brian McKenna, the previous holder of the post, said he had great pleasure in nominating Sean Conlon. He said his colleague had first been elected for Sinn Féin to Monaghan Urban District Council twenty years ago. He had been co-opted in 2004 to Monaghan County Council and subsequently elected to that body, which he had chaired on a number of occasions. So in his view, he had the expertise and necessary skill to take on the post. Cllr Cathy Bennett, whose electoral base of Scotstown and Knockatallon is now part of the MD, seconded the nomination. She complimented Cllr Conlon on all the hard work had had done for the Monaghan area since his election.
Cllr Paudge Connolly intervened and sought to raise a point of order.
He thought they should be given an idea of how the post would be filled over the next five years and wanted to know from the main parties if there was going to be any form of sharing power.
Cllr McKenna stated that following discussions Sinn Féin had had with Fine Gael, it was the intention that the Chair be rotated among the different groupings, with his party having the first year as they had the largest number of seats, then each of the other groups (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Independents) would be offered the Chair. The final (fifth) year would go to Sinn Féin. “That’s what we have suggested, with each group getting one year in the Chair and the final year going to Sinn Féin,” he said.
Cllr Connolly said he was astounded that along with the other Independent Cllr Treanor, he was being treated as a group, whereas at the County Council he wasn’t. They had to be consistent, in his view. He said he had done a calculation using the D’Hondt method of sharing. Under that system, they should receive 2/6ths of the post(s).
This would give the Independents the Chair of the MD on two of the five occasions, in the second year and in the fifth year.
Cllr McKenna claimed Cllr Connolly’s remarks were ridiculous and that his proposal for sharing the post was “just not possible.”
Cllr Connolly said he was absolutely certain about his calculations, which had been done on the same D’Hondt basis as Dáil Éireann used in 2016. On that occasion, Sinn Féin had benefitted by being offered the Chair of one of the Oireachtas committees. He said he was sure the procedure being used was wrong.
Cllr McKenna stated that he was making a nomination only for this year. When Mr McElwain asked if there were any further nominations, Cllr Connolly proposed Cllr Seamus Treanor, who seconded himself.
A roll call vote then took place, resulting in:
SEAN CONLON: Aughey; Bennett; Conlon; Maxwell; McKenna
SEAMUS TREANOR: Connolly; Treanor.
Councillor Conlon was then declared elected and took the Chair.
Councillor Connolly stated that he would not take any further position, if offered. “I will not be taking any crumbs from the table of this Municipal District. I have made that clear.”
Nominations for Leas Cathaoirleach were then taken. Cllr Conlon proposed Cllr David Maxwell (Fine Gael) for the post and he was seconded by Cllr Raymond Aughey (Fianna Fáil). In the absence of any other nominations, Cllr Maxwell was duly elected to the post.
CLLR CONLON’S ADDRESS
The new Cathaoileach Cllr Conlon then addressed the meeting as follows:- “At the outset I want to thank my party colleagues Cllr Brian McKenna and Cllr Cathy Bennett for proposing and seconding my election as Cathaoirleach and I thank my Council colleagues for their support. I want to further convey appreciation to the electorate of the Monaghan Municipal District area for voting in three Sinn Féin candidates, equating to 43% of the total representation of this Council.”
“I extend my congratulations to Cllrs Treanor, Aughey, Maxwell and Connolly on their re-election. As I appeal to all of you for cooperation and support in this leadership role as Chairman for the next twelve months, I commit in the years ahead to similarly extending that goodwill to those among you who will also take up this esteemed role as we collectively apply ourselves to our duties and obligations.”
“Furthermore, to the twelve other candidates who participated in elections from the Monaghan town area, your participation enriched the democratic process. However, despite the wide choice of candidates, the low turnout of voters – at just under 50% —
speaks volumes of the disconnect between voter and candidate. It shows an apathy that reflects poorly on the relationship between citizen and civic authority.”
“I am of the firm view that the abolition of Town Councils five years ago has widened and worsened that disconnect. As the saying goes, ‘democracy is a great thing but only when it works’; so, when every other eligible voter decides not to mark the ballot paper, it is cause for alarm.”
THE YEAR AHEAD
“For the year ahead in fulfilling my duty as Cathaoirleach, and with our joints efforts that seek to improve social, economic and community wellbeing, I believe it is through partnership, cooperation, inclusivity and fairness that must form the foundations of this Council’s plans and strategies. We have each been given a mandate to work out proposals and solutions that will enhance our towns, villages and rural hinterland.”
“Along with our efforts will be the expertise and experience of Council Executive and staff members. We seek to ensure, and implore of them, that no stone is left unturned in availing of Departmental supports and measures that will strengthen our shared endeavours in providing for both civic and community led initiatives.”
“Recent examples include the submission by Monaghan Municipal District of an application to the Department of Justice to avail of funding for the installation of CCTV in our town. It is unfortunate that delays have occurred in securing these vital devices required to combat ongoing anti-social behaviour and life threatening incidents. However, I emphasise that the most effective role in combating crime is an increased presence of An Garda Síochana on our streets and effective court imposed penalties.”
“I congratulate Cllr Brian McKenna for the work he did on this issue over the past twelve months. It’s great to see that the application for the cameras has now been made and they will help to deal with the problem of vandalism.”
“A praiseworthy club, parish and housing estate effort that I look forward to seeing replicated was undertaken last month in partnership with the Council through the ‘Street Feast’ and ‘Big Hello’ events. This creative outreach idea brought together neighbours and friends to celebrate a family fun day aimed at boosting community spirit and foster positive relations, something that can be overlooked with busy lifestyles. These actions also lend well to greeting visitors to our region.”
“The success of the Monaghan Town Heritage Trail should be broadened to attract and facilitate visitors to nearby attractions such as Rossmore Park, Glaslough village and the Sliabh Beagh area, having local guides as part of Council sponsored Tourism Town Teams in organising brief excursions.”
“Challenges to our local economy continue with the uncertainty of Brexit. Our local authority must remain resilient and responsive to the genuine concerns of business and traders acting as an encouraging force in providing assistance and supports in an environment where potential job losses and closures exist. Our ratepayers and industrious workforce deserve nothing less.”
Leas Cathaoirleach Cllr David Maxwell congratulated Sean Conlon on his appointment and thanked his predecessor Brian McKenna. He said he looked forward to serving all the people in the district and getting a chance to serve in the Chair in the next four years.
Cllr Brian McKenna also passed on his congratulations. He thanked the MD staff for all their support. He was pleased that the facilities at Rossmore Park were being improved. He said it was important to commend community groups for their efforts. “The contribution they’re making is incalculable,” he stated. He went on to name communities in Tydavnet, Emyvale, Knockatallon and Glaslough in particular. He also said the young people were to be commended for their activities.
Cllr Seamus Treanor passed on his congratulations and was followed by Cllr Raymond Aughey of Fianna Fáil. He also said that Brian McKenna had been a very fair chair last year. The Municipal District had done a lot. With the Rossmore playground now so busy, it was a tribute to the elected members, showing exactly what could be done with hard work. “It makes me happy to see what the MD can achieve when it puts its shoulder to the wheel and gets the work done; it’s phenomenal,” he said. He hoped there would be many more outstanding days for them to come in Rossmore Park.
Cllr Cathy Bennett thanked her two Sinn Féin colleagues for the work they had done on the Municipal District in the past year, especially at Rossmore Park. “There are some great things going to happen,” she said. She instanced her own area of Sliabh Beagh, Knockatallon and Scotstown and said she hoped members would keep then high on the agenda. She was delighted to have been elected to Monaghan MD, which she regarded as her “natural home”.
Cllr Conlon said he hoped there would be a partnership approach with Ballybay Clones MD on those areas which had been transferred into Monaghan.
Cllr Connolly was the last to speak and in passing on his congratulations, stated that he would represent the people of north Monaghan to the best of his ability. However, he turned down a request to join the rest of the MD members and staff to participate in an official photograph for this paper. He explained later that he was still very dissatisfied with the way Council and MD positions had been filled.