By Carmel Hayes
A SINN Féin councillor has condemned repeated rows at Laois County Council meetings as “embarrassing, childish and unacceptable”.
Portarlington councillor Aidan Mullins told the latest council meeting last Friday: “If live streaming comes in, we would be a laughing stock around the country.”
He also called on those responsible to “show some manners” and stop this “constant waffle and grandstanding for the press”.
Cathaoirleach cllr Thomasina Connell (FG) agreed and warned that she would have to suspend meetings in future if such behaviour continued.
Their comments came just days after the council’s monthly meeting descended into chaos, after a series of spats culminated in yet another blazing row.
This time, a loud dispute erupted after Fine Gael councillor Aisling Moran said it was “almost a career option now to go on the dole” and claimed that “an awful lot” of local people living in council houses “never worked, their parents never worked and their children will never work”.
Her remarks at the monthly meeting drew strong criticism from Fianna Fáil councillors Paschal McEvoy and Pádraig Fleming, with the latter asking her to withdraw her remarks.
Cllr Moran refused to withdraw her comments and repeatedly ignored appeals from chairperson cllr Connell to “stop talking over the chair”. In the end, cllr Connell cut off the fiery exchange and told cllrs Moran and McEvoy to “take it outside”.
A series of disputes on different issues during the 11am meeting meant that the agenda was still unfinished at 5pm and was adjourned for four days until last Friday morning, 3 February.
When the adjourned meeting began, cllr Mullins said he had to comment on the behaviour he had witnessed in the council chamber.
He said: “It was embarrassing, childish and unacceptable and it reflects very poorly on all of us in the chamber. I have never seen such juvenile and unprofessional behaviour as I witnessed last Monday. If live streaming of meetings comes in, we would be a laughing stock around the country.”
He continued: “We need to stop this constant waffle and grandstanding for the press. The members that are mainly the cause of this need to take a step back and show some manners.”
Cllr Connell agreed and said it was very difficult to chair a meeting when people were shouting over the chair. She said she would have no choice but to suspend meetings in future if such behaviour continued.
The main dispute at the monthly meeting on Monday 30 January followed cllr Moran’s claim that some people living in low rent council homes have made the dole a career option, while other people working long hours cannot afford to buy their own homes, because they are over the income threshold for council houses but don’t earn enough to get mortgages.
She said: “People are getting up at six in the morning, dropping their kids off at creche, getting back at 7pm and hardly able to see their kids. These people are working day and night and not able to afford to buy their own house. They are over the threshold.
“There are a number of people, not all, who aren’t working, never worked, their parents never worked and their children will never work and they’re sitting at home and the people who are going to work are paying for their house, their fuel allowance and everything else. It has to change.”
The Graiguecullen-Portarlington councillor added: “There are people in council houses who need every bit of help they can get and they are genuine. But there are an awful lot of people who are not genuine and living in council houses. We need to look after the people who are getting up for work.”
Cllr Moran made the remarks during a council management report on housing, as she said she could not understand why the council was selling some of its housing stock to tenants while going into 20-year leases with voluntary housing bodies.
She said: “I’m saying that the council should keep their houses. In 20 years’ time, we will have no stock. It will all be rented from approved housing bodies. If someone is in a position to buy, then the local authority can help them purchase a house but not the one they’re in, a different house.”
Cllr Fleming quietly but firmly asked cllr Moran to withdraw her remarks but she refused.
During the subsequent heated exchange, cllr McEvoy said it was not true that people made the dole a career option and it was not the case that they stayed on jobseeker’s allowance long-term while doing nothing. They had to do courses or go on community employment schemes and show that they were looking for work. He also challenged cllr Moran to identify even one unemployed person who did as she claimed.
Cllr Moran shot back that she could name 20 people off the top of her head, resulting in a heated argument between both councillors.
At the adjourned meeting held online last Friday, cllr Connell in her role as chair muted cllr Moran’s microphone a number of times. During a debate on salting routes, cllr Moran attempted to ask a question but was ruled out of order, as she had already spoken for her allotted time.
Cllr Moran argued: “I want to ask a question. I have a democratic right to ask a question.”
Muting the microphone, cllr Connell replied, “You already had the opportunity to speak for five minutes, so I’ll ask the director of services to respond and you can ask a question later.”
Meanwhile, cllr Moran had two motions on the agenda but they were not debated, as they were not seconded by any other councillor. When cllr Moran asked if she could comment on her first motion, cllr Connell said she could not because there was no seconder, before turning off her FG colleague’s microphone.
Cllr Moran declared: “That says it all. On two motions I am muted.”