Members considered the advice from the council’s law agent last night as they discussed the filling of the casual vacancy arising from the election to the Dáil of Cllr Mick Barry (AAA).
Mr Barry and his party, Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit, are facing a challenge to the co-option from Labour.
Labour has questioned the validity of AAA/PBP’s nomination of Mr Barry’s replacement, Fiona Ryan, given that he was nominated to run for the council in 2014 by AAA, which deregistered as a political party last year, after merging with PBP.
The advice to councillors last night was that the former AAA councillor was not a non-party candidate at the time of his election in 2014, and, as a result, the casual vacancy caused by his election to the Dáil could not be filled under the council’s own standing orders.
In a report, the law agent said she is of the opinion that the council has no legal entitlement under section 19 of the Local Government Act 2001 or otherwise to fill the casual vacancy. She said the “present lacuna” in that section of the Act would best be addressed by way of amending primary legislation.
Cllr Tim Brosnan (FF) criticised those who drafted the legislation, saying it shows why the Dáil bar should be closed during work hours.
Party colleague Cllr John Sheehan said resolving the issue through amending legislation could take months or years.
“The people of the Cork North Central ward deserve full representation,” he said.
Cllr Tom Gould (SF) said the council had a moral and democratic responsibility to fill the seat last night.
Cllr Marion O’Sullivan (AAA) provided members with separate legal advice which suggested the co-option could proceed without difficulty last night.
After suspending the meeting to consider their options in private, councillors voted 15-14 in favour of seeking their own independent legal advice on the matter.
The co-option will be discussed again in two weeks.
Mr Barry, who watched proceedings from the public gallery with Ms Ryan, said the council can’t kick the can down the road indefinitely.
“The people of the North Central ward need full representation and should not be forced to wait for it,” he said.
“AAA have collected hundreds of petitions already from the ward and we will be stepping up our campaign in the communities on this issue.”
Ms Ryan said this was the second council meeting she sat through waiting to take her place in the chamber. “I’m a patient person but it’s not fair to the people of the ward that they are being forced to wait for the full representation that they voted for,” she said.