Galway City Council’s interim boss is a woman of few words 


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Galway City Council’s interim boss is a woman of few words  Galway City Council’s interim boss is a woman of few words 

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

In his last speech as Chief Executive at a Galway City Council meeting, Brendan McGrath joked that he would keep it short. “I’m not going to filibuster today,” he said.

Why change a habit of lifetime? Who knows, but in fairness, his contribution was relatively short.

McGrath had many talents; chief among them was his ability to talk down the clock at City Council meetings, or filibuster, as he put it.

He was an expert at it. If McGrath kept talking, that meant nobody else was talking. And when nobody else was talking, councillors had less time to pose questions about the stewardship of Galway by City Hall management.

It also meant he controlled the narrative; his spin on events was more prominent in news reports of Council meetings than the views of elected members.

Often, McGrath was just repeating what his senior staff had already relayed. But more often than not he’d say it better, with more authority.

He was an excellent orator; a plámáser, too. And often councillors were like putty in his hands.

For God’s sake, he even got a standing ovation from councillors at one meeting. Scarlet for them!

McGrath’s lengthy contributions meant he could drag out discussions on some topics, meaning other more controversial ones further down the agenda were deferred. That took the sting out of them.

Debates on Crown Square and Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture took place many months after reports on them had been circulated to councillors. Though still newsworthy, the public had moved on; they were no longer political hot potatoes.

It was genius. And his long monologues also meant that by the time he had finished speaking, councillors were bored and often had forgotten whether or not he had answered the questions they’d asked.

Whether by design, or unwittingly, it had the same effect. Councillors often did not pursue follow-up questions.

During McGrath’s final meeting, Donal Lyons, one of the most experienced councillors in Galway, acknowledged they had gotten the run-around on occasion.

“I’ll say one thing about you, you talk an awful lot . . . you spun out a few meetings, so you did, so the rest of us wouldn’t be able to get in,” said the King of Knocknacarra.

The same can’t be said for his immediate predecessor, Patricia Philbin (pictured), interim CE until a permanent appointment is made in the coming months.

Philbin, who was seconded to the ailing Galway 2020 project as the sh*t hit the fan, is a woman of few words.

This is noticeable in the Chief Executive reports, published monthly. Under McGrath, these were huge documents stretching to over 100 pages, detailing everything the Council had done that month. Philbin’s CE reports have far less information and detail, and are perhaps two-thirds shorter.

With her, there are no monologues or filibustering at Council meetings; no deliberate attempts to wind down the clock. Instead, she barely says anything, and let’s her directors and engineers to do the talking.

It’s certainly making meetings more efficient, although less isn’t always more. And one problem with this slimmed-down style of leadership is that staff, councillors and the general public are none the wiser about what the potential new CE Patricia Philbin’s vision for Galway is.

This is a shortened preview version of this column. For more Bradley Bytes, see the November 3 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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