Party split fails to emerge at heated council meeting

THE threat by a member of Fianna Fáil to split ranks with his six party colleagues on Waterford County Council petered out at the conclusion of an extraordinary reconvened annual estimates meeting last night.

Tramore’s Cllr Dan Cowman supported the 11 Fine Gael members in having the book of estimates adopted on a 12-11 vote, with the other FF members, Labour’s four councillors, and the lone Sinn Féin member all voting against.

The result ensured Environment Minister Dick Roche did not have to exercise his legislative powers and disband the council.

It was one of the most acrimonious meetings in the council’s 107-year history.

At one stage Fine Gael’s Cllr Tom Higgins accused Transport Minister Martin Cullen of “behaving like a fascist” by giving increased powers to council officials at the expense of the elected councillors when he was Environment Minister.

As the meeting prepared to go into a further period of adjournment, Sinn Féin’s Cllr Brendan Mansfield and Cllr Tom Cronin (FF) locked horns.

Later in the meeting Mr Mansfield protested to the mayor, Cllr Ger Barron, that he had been told he would get “a puck in the mouth”.

“I have had an apology in private from the member concerned but I now want a public apology,” he said.

None was forthcoming.

There was continuous criticism of the decision by county manager, Ray O’Dwyer, to introduce an annual flat charge of €150 for domestic refuse collection in addition to existing charges for the various types of bin collections.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Pat Leahy said the decision to sign the €150 charge into law in advance of the reconvened estimates meeting was “outlandish”.

A proposal by Labour’s Cllr Teresa Wright to seek a meeting with the Environment Minister or his senior officials, together with representatives of the EPA, the four constituency TDs and two senators to ascertain the possibility of securing additional funding towards the rehabilitating the council’s two closed landfills was given unanimous backing.

The manager had earlier disclosed that the Department of the Environment has pledged 75% of the cost of rehabilitating the two closed landfills, and that he had used every avenue open to him to get as much funding as possible.

The proposal to adopt the estimates came from FG’s Cllr Paudie Coffey who said his party was supporting them because they contained so many positives. However, he stressed they were not supporting the controversial €150 refuse charge, which in reality is not part of the estimates.

Following the meeting, Fianna Fáil spokesman Cllr Pat Leahy said there will be no reprimand of any kind against Mr Cowman for voting as he did.

“The whip was not on the members and in fact we admire Cllr Cowman in having the courage to vote as he saw fit,” he said.

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