Labour's Lar Byrne controversially took the Chair of Tullamore Town Council this week.
Labour's Lar Byrne controversially took the Chair at the Tullamore Town Council AGM on Tuesday evening last, with Sinn Féin's Brendan Killeavy saying he's been cheated out of the top role and Mr Byrne's own local party branch officers saying a prior agreement that would have seen Cllr Killeavy get the role should have been adhered to. Meanwhile councillors in Birr continued a system that sees those with most votes take the Chair in turn, while Edenderry councillors put a woman into the top job for only the second time in its history.
Three years ago an agreement was signed by Tullamore Fine Gael councillors Tommy McKeigue and Molly Buckley, Labour councillors Seán O'Brien (now Independent) and Lar Byrne and Sinn Féin councillor Brendan Killeavy. According to the pact Brendan Killeavy was initially to be voted into the top job by the group's majority in 2011. Lar Byrne was absent from that meeting due to illness, however, and with Fianna Fáil's Sinead Dooley equal to Cllr Killeavy on four votes it came down to a name being pulled out of a hat for the role and Cllr Killeavy consequently losing out. According to Cllr Killeavy this year he was to get the role, but instead Lar Byrne was proposed by Fianna Fáil and with four Fianna Fáil votes added to his own he was voted in by five votes to four.
After last Tuesday's meeting Cllr Killeavy voiced his disappointment that Cllr Byrne had not honoured the group's agreement. He vowed never to do a deal with the Labour Party again and suggested a clique was in place in the council. A statement by Cllr Killeavy on his Facebook page attracted a massive 160 'likes' and 69 comments of support. Cllr Killeavy told the Offaly Independent that the group met after last year's AGM and decided that because of Cllr Byrne's absence at last year's meeting he would forego his year as Chair, which had been agreed as 2012. Instead Cllr Killeavy said the agreement was that he would be again proposed at the 2012 AGM. He added that the issue had been discussed with the local Labour Party in addition, and it concurred that the agreement in place should be honoured. The Tullamore Labour Party Facebook page posted the following message on Wednesday last: "The Branch Officers of the Tullamore Labour Party are of the view that the 2009 agreement for the appointment of Chairman to Tullamore Town Council should have been adhered to."
Defending his position this week Cllr Byrne told the Offaly Independent that in his opinion the agreement became void when Seán O'Brien, now an Independent councillor, left the Labour Party. "It was broken when that happened," he insisted. When contacted by the Offaly Independent Cllr O'Brien disputed this fact. "Definitely not," he said. "As far as I was concerned the agreement stood." He added further fuel to the fire, saying that he expected Cllr Byrne to honour the same agreement next year and support him in his bid to take the Chair at the council for the 2013/4 year.
Meanwhile Cllr Byrne said that while it was unfortunate Cllr Killeavy missed out on getting the role last year, his name had been agreed by the group as 2012 Chair. "The first year it was Cllr McKeigue, the second year was Cllr Buckley, the third year was Brendan Killeavy," he said.
"Also on that piece of paper was the fourth year, which is this year. The councillor that was to be in there was Lar Byrne of the Labour Party." Cllr Byrne's route to the Chair was paved not by this group, however, but by a proposal from Fianna Fáil's Paddy Rowland.
"I'm grateful for them proposing and seconding me," Cllr Byrne said. "I never set out to do anyone out of anything in my life," he added. "I'm sorry that people didn't get the Chair but as it is I'm elected Tullamore Town Council Chair. I've a lot to do and I have to move on from this matter. Hopefully people will give me a chance to do that."This year marks Cllr Byrne's third time taking the top role in the council. Looking forward he said he wants to carry on previous Chair Sinead Dooley's hard work with help from his council colleagues.
"There's hard times ahead," he said. "We have to work together."
Speaking later Cllr Killeavy expressed thanks to all who sent him messages of support over the past number of days. He said there is "all sorts of mischief going on" but added that he's "not going to be kept down". "It's not the end of the world," he said. "I'm more determined now than ever. This setback is not going to hold me back." Speaking to his Facebook followers he said: "Let's just say the fire is back in my belly."
Meanwhile, in Birr an entirely more peaceful process took place at a meeting last Monday night, with Michael Loughnane voted into the Chair and Bernadette Fanneran taking the vice-Chair position. According to Birr councillor Michael Campbell councillors follow a procedure that sees the councillor with the highest number of first preference votes in the last local election take the Chair first, followed by the second highest and so on. "There's no party politics," he explained. "We've been doing that for the last at least ten years and it's working very well."
At a meeting held on Wednesday evening last Edenderry town councillors elected a woman to the role of Chair for only the second time in the council's history.
An agreement between five council members saw Fianna Fáil's Mary Breen take the Chair after being proposed by Finian O'Neill and seconded by Fergus McDonnell.
The first woman to take the role of Chair in the council - Eileen O'Connor - took the Chair for the final time in 1997. Ms O'Connor died just last year. For the coming twelve months meanwhile John Foley takes up the position of vice-Chair in Edenderry Town Council, after being proposed by Fergus McDonnell and seconded by Finian O'Neill.