The mayoral and voting pact, which brought the Civil War parties together on Galway County Council, was on the brink of collapse this week over a State board appointment.
During a dramatic day at County Hall, untold damage was done to the trust between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil councillors as they traded insults and veiled threats during a tetchy discussion on the appointment of a board member to Údarás na Gaeltachta.
Exchanges became heated in particular between Fine Gael party whip, Jimmy McClearn, and Seamus Walsh, the Fianna Fáil nomination for the position.
Though two Fine Gael Councillors – McClearn and Tom McHugh – voted against Cllr Walsh; and two – Niamh Byrne and Frank Kearney – abstained, the Oughterard man prevailed in a vote, beating Independent Seósamh Ó Cualáin by 24 votes to nine.
However, the win may come at a cost.
As well as causing a rift between the two main ruling parties, who are involved in a voting arrangement, the appointment also stirred friction within Fianna Fáil.
The party’s twelve councillors were late returning from lunch and missed an important vote on the Local Property Tax – when they did return, Martina Kinnane intimated that they had been discussing the appointment of one of their members to the Gaeltacht body.
Prior to returning to the Council Chamber, Fianna Fáil members convened in a side room to thrash out who their nomination would be. Passersby on the corridor outside could hear heated exchanges between them.
Fianna Fáil whip on the Council, Mary Hoade, during an adjournment of the meeting, was involved in a raised-voice discussion inside the chamber with Cllr Walsh, who sits beside her.
Before the item was discussed, Cathaoirleach Eileen Mannion (FG), called for a brief adjournment but this was resisted by Cllr Walsh. He said there wasn’t a need for an adjournment. “I can’t go out and renege on an agreement . . . I gave my word to people . . . I wouldn’t stab them in the back,” said Cllr Walsh.
At this stage Cllr McClearn accused Fianna Fáil of arrogance, but Donagh Killilea (FF) countered: “You’re the one who is arrogant.”
When they resumed after five minutes, Tomás Ó Curraoin and Jim Cuddy (Ind) proposed Cllr Ó Cualáin for the position, Fianna Fáil nominated Seamus Walsh, and in a surprise move Fine Gael nominated a second Fianna Fáil man, Seán Ó Tuairisg.
All three initially agreed to allow their names to go forward, but just before the vote, Cllr Ó Tuairisg crossed the chamber, walked over to Cllr McClearn, and whispered into his ear. When he resumed his seat, he said: “I suppose I have to go with the party. I withdraw. I reluctantly withdraw.”
Tensions rose just before the vote as McClearn and Walsh exchanged barbs.
Cllr McClearn said his party “will not be a doormat for anybody”, and he referred to the agreement FG and FF had for the past three years.
Cllr Walsh countered: “Do you want me to tell them what I know? I’m the one who promised you no banana skins . . . Wasn’t I in Tuam last night with you? . . . Would I have driven to Tuam from Oughterard? . . . I promised you no bananas. I kept my word. I didn’t put out any bananas.”
Cllr McClearn said, “I told you in Tuam I couldn’t make any commitment” and Cllr Walsh replied: “There’ll be again in it” and “it’s a long road”. Pointing at the Fine Gael Cllrs he added: “Will ye wake up now”.
Cllr McClearn said if Walsh loses the vote, “it’s your own fault”.
There was a roll-call vote, and when Cllr Ó Tuairisg was asked to choose between his party colleague and Ó Cualáin, he said: “It’s a hard one . . . I suppose I have to go for what the party said.” After hesitating, he voted for Walsh.
Speaking as Gaeilge after being elected by 24 votes to nine, with two abstentions, Cllr Walsh thanked the members who voted for him. His name will now go forward as the Council nominee for the Údarás, to be ratified by the Gaeltacht Minister.