Councillors condemn process as SF wins seat

SINN FÉIN gained an extra seat on Cork City Council last night despite a row over procedures for filling vacant seats.

Two of the council’s 31 seats were filled last night — one Fine Gael seat left vacant following Cllr Colm Burke’s move to Europe as an MEP, and one independent seat left vacant following the death last month of Cllr Con O’Connell.

But a row flared up just before the co-option of the candidate to fill Mr O’Connell’s seat.

City manager Joe Gavin told the meeting that Section 19 of the Local Government Act 2001, and the council’s own standing orders, stipulate how the matter should be dealt with.

He said the regulations clearly state that the only person who can be considered for co-option to fill such a ‘casual vacancy’ is the non-elected candidate in Mr O’Connell’s ward with the next highest vote in the last local election.

Mr O’Connell topped the poll in his ward in 2004. Sinn Féin candidate, Fiona Kerins, aged 22, missed out by just 34 votes, putting her in line for his seat.

She was in the public gallery last night when Labour Cllr Mick O’Connell criticised the procedures.

He said that the late Mr O’Connell’s family were always very vocal that the seat belonged to them.

“They functioned as a unit for almost 20 years,” he said.

“Con was the guy at the front but the others in the background were equally as good as he was.

“They want this seat retained by someone of independent mind.

“It is unfortunate that this council has adopted standing orders that now preclude this from happening.”

Former Fianna Fáil and now Independent Cllr Dave McCarthy agreed. He said the council’s standing orders governing this type of situation were almost 40 years old and out of date.

“The death of an independent councillor has left this seat vacant. It should be taken over by an independent councillor,” he said.

However, Lord Mayor Donal Counihan said the political allegiance of the next person in line for the seat was not relevant.

Mr Gavin also said he had been given legal advice that changing standing orders once the process of co-option had begun would be unsafe.

Councillors were warned that they could face legal action if they tried to block the move.

Ms Kerins was then formally co-opted on to council. At 22, she is the city’s youngest councillor.

Senior SIPTU official and former Labour councillor, Joe O’Callaghan, was also co-opted to take over the seat left vacant by Mr Burke.

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