Council Affairs: Dazed and confused in Patrickswell

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

SOMETIMES it’s what’s not said in the council chamber that poses the most interesting questions.

There was certainly tension in the air last week and oodles of confusion with it.

After being on their best behaviour in recent months, councillors could not contain themselves any longer as they gathered for a special meeting in County Hall. There was no holding some of these catty politicians back as they threw out insults like fishwives.

Councillors had been minding both Ps and Qs since one particularly interesting afternoon in chambers before Christmas, having been given a right good dressing down. But the quiet couldn’t last and thank goodness for that.

When they are in this kind of flying form, it takes you right back to the days of the Christians being devoured at the Colosseum.

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On this discombobulating occasion, members of Limerick City and County Council gathered to consider the proposed Material Alterations of the Draft Patrickswell Local Area Plan 2024-2030. Sounds juicy, right?

At the off, councillors were asked to notify the Mayor of any declaration of interest on the item due for discussion.

Fine Gael councillor Dan McSweeney confirmed that he had a declaration of interest as a family member owned property within the boundary, and so removed himself.

Labour councillor Joe Leddin also said that he had a declaration of interest. A first cousin of his owned the land under discussion.

It all seemed straight forward enough until musical chairs champion, former Fine Gael, former Independent, current Fianna Fáil affiliate, councillor Fergus Kilcoyne, proposed an amendment, calling for four serviced sites to be added to the alterations of the plan. Cllr Kieran O’Hanlon seconded.

Throwing a spanner in the works, council senior planner Maria Woods recommended the amendment not be proposed because of sufficient land zoned within the settlement boundary to accommodate future growth.

So we had a proposer, a seconder, and a seeming objection, and I’m still somewhat able to follow. Until, that is, Fine Gael councillors Daniel Butler and Sarah Kiely popped in to propose the area plan remain as is.

At this point, councillors began to ask what exactly they were about to vote on – the plan or the amendment.

Aptly named for the only one to see forest for the trees, Maria Woods explained that the amendment was for 0.4 hectares to be zoned service sites. In the Chief Executive’s Report, she explained, it was recommended that it shouldn’t be included and the OPR recommended the same.

Cllr Kilcoyne interjected to say that his amendment involved “only four houses that would house four families. We have a housing crisis. Here today we have Fine Gael going against housing four families.”

“Fergus, it is wrong passing a sneaky, sly comment that Fine Gael are against housing,” Cllr Liam Galvin, of Fine Gael, responded.

Adding a sneaky sly comment of his own, Cllr Galvin said: “It’s very easy for you, Fergus, you are Fine Gael today, Fianna Fáil tomorrow, and you were Independent last week. Let’s make up your bloody mind what you want to be.”

At this juncture Cllr Jerome Scanlan (IND), in the spirit of ‘is there anything to be said for another Mass?, suggested that a further special meeting was needed.

Cllr Adam Teskey (FG) then sought a five-minute adjournment which, in council time, took 30 minutes. After which he asked for a definition of what a conflict of interest is within any development plan.

Cllr Scanlan, watching the minutes pass by until the heat death of the planet, called for councillors to stop “fiddling” and vote.

“We’ll take a vote on the deferral,” Mayor Gerald Mitchell offered, as empires rose and fell around him.

Cllr Butler called for greater clarity on the whole thing and the cogs kept on turning in the now dead-eyed chimps clattered cymbals inside the brains of all in attendance.

Thankfully, before the plot was to be completely lost, meetings administrator Laura Flannery put her foot down and told councillors that a vote would be taken on the proposal to adjourn the meeting.

It was passed, just, and Cllr Galvin again took umbrage with “dirty” remarks being thrown around the chamber. This time he was not impressed that Cllr Scanlan thanked Cllr John Sheahan for gracing them with his presence at the meeting.

“If Cllr Scanlan doesn’t understand technology, if by chance a person turns off their camera, he or she might do so for whatever reason. Jerome, that was a sneaky thing. Cllr Sheahan was here from the get-go today.

“We have an important matter in front of us today and that’s it.”

A vote was then taken on the amendment originally proposed by Cllr Kilcoyne – not the adjournment or the plan at the table – which was passed by 17 votes to nine against and five abstentions.

I’m still unsure what exactly happened but it was certainly one of the more ambiguous meetings I have ever sat through. And if this writer’s account of what happened left you confused and glassy-eyed, just imagine how I feel.