PARTY rivalry is still rumbling on in Carlow County Council, with gender balance throwing councillors back into combat mode as they carve up the spoils following the recent local elections.
At the recent meeting of the local authority, it emerged that Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board – formerly the VEC – has implemented gender balance. Therefore, two of the four nominees from Carlow County Council must be female.
At the first meeting of the council, councillors Denis Foley, Fergal Browne, William Paton and Fintan Phelan were selected. But they were not accepted due to the gender balance rule. With only two female councillors – Jennifer Murnane O’Connor and Anne Ahern – both then had to be automatically selected from Carlow.
But at last week’s meeting, cllr Ahern said that it was “with regret due to work commitments” that she could not take up the position. This unleashed friction between the parties, with Fianna Fáil insisting cllr Phelan take up cllr Ahern’s position with immediate effect, and Fine Gael suggesting a delay in filling the position to allow further clarification.
Fearing Fianna Fáil would be squeezed out, cllr John Pender threatened a “block vote” to force the selection of party colleague cllr Phelan.
This block vote was only possible when four positions were being filled at the same time, and should cllr Ahern’s position be delayed until the September meeting, the Fine Gael/Labour pact would have the votes to take the post.
“If we are not going to nominate a female, I think cllr Paton should be entitled to that position,” said cllr Michael Doran.
Cathaoirleach Fergal Browne appeared to be in favour of allowing the selection of cllr Phelan, but as the row raged on, he suggested a meeting of the party whips at the break.
Following their return, Labour whip cllr William Paton stated that the whips had agreed that councillors Murnane O’Connor, Ahern, Browne and Foley be deemed elected. The matter would then be brought back to council at the next meeting when “this side of the house would not oppose the nomination of Fintan Phelan”.
But Fianna Fáil was still not happy.
“Do you really want Carlow losing out at the AGM – us with only three people there? Don’t be foolish and let the Kilkenny lads have one over on us. Agree to let Fintan Phelan go to the AGM,” insisted cllr Arthur McDonald.
The row rumbled on yet again, with cllr John Cassin growing impatient with the length of the debate on the issue.
“I think we are playing with semantics here,” warned cathaoirleach Browne before it was finally agreed to let cllr Phelan go to the AGM.