Bid to muzzle councillors is ruled out on legal grounds

By Dara Bradley

Attempts to muzzle outspoken City Councillors by ‘dipping into’ their remuneration have been rejected by legal advisors.

The proposal to change standing orders – the rules of Galway City Council meetings – to include a provision to take money off any elected member who disrupts a meeting have been deemed unconstitutional.

Galway City Council had voted in February to change Standing Order 42 – it would have allowed the local authority to suspend remuneration and privileges enjoyed by any unruly City Councillor who was deemed out-of-order at meetings, who had failed to abide by other standing orders and who refused to leave the Chamber.

Legal opinion has ruled out the change, however, and it’s ‘back to the drawing board’ for the Councillors who wanted to introduce the change.

The motion was proposed by Fianna Fáil City Councillor, Peter Keane, a solicitor, and was passed, by eight votes to seven, after four and a half hours debate in the Council Chamber at the February meeting. The motion was supported by management, including acting City Manager Joe O’Neill, subject to legal advice.

However, the Council’s own legal advice is that the motion that was passed is not constitutional.

Most observers recognise that the motion to change standing orders – though it would apply to all elected members – was targeted at Fine Gael City Councillor, Pádraig Conneely, whose outspokenness on certain issues is perceived as disruptive at meetings.

In the February meeting, Independent Catherine Connolly, a barrister, said the proposal was daft, but her attempts to send the motion back to the Procedures Committee of the Council were voted down by proponents of the change.

Yesterday, Cllr Conneely, who strongly opposed the change, said those who put forward the amendment had “egg on their face”. He vowed not to be silenced and said he would continue to “speak out” at meetings, in the interest of his constituents.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.