No minutes of meetings ahead of controversial Crown Square vote


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

No minutes of meetings ahead of controversial Crown Square vote No minutes of meetings ahead of controversial Crown Square vote

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

In the week leading up to the single most important vote city councillors have taken in a generation – approving a multi-million euro loan to buy Crown Square and relocate City Hall to Mervue – the Chief Executive of Galway City Council Brendan McGrath held separate meetings with elected members.

But agendas for the meetings, and minutes of the meetings, do not exist, according to a Council response to a Freedom of Information request.

Programme announcements about this summer’s Galway Arts Festival remind us that the first anniversary of the controversial vote is fast approaching.

On Monday, July 11 last year, at a hybrid meeting, held online on Zoom and in-person at the Galmont Hotel, councillors approved raising a loan of €45.5 million from Housing Finance Agency.

A 43-page presentation from Council management, outlining why they should buy Crown Square offices to relocate City Hall, had only been circulated to councillors on Friday, July 8.

Three days later, they approved the deal to buy the new property, costing €56.6m of public money, including €11.1m fit-out costs from the Council reserves.

Now, it has emerged, through FOI, that CE Brendan McGrath held separate briefings with individual councillors days before the vote. But the Council has confirmed that agendas and minutes for these meetings do not exist.

According to his diary, released under FOI, McGrath held a series of meetings with councillors on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, July 5, 6 and 7, days before councillors voted (16 for, one against, one absent), for the loan deal.

McGrath met Declan McDonnell (Ind) first, at 4.30pm on July 5. No minutes or agenda exist for this meeting. He met Niall McNelis (Lab) second, at 5.30pm. No minutes or agenda exist.

McGrath then met Donal Lyons (Ind), Terry O’Flaherty (Ind) and Noel Larkin (Ind) separately at 7pm, 7.30pm and 8pm respectively. No minutes or agendas exist.

The following day, the CE’s diary notes that at 10am, McGrath met with Fine Gael councillors Clodagh Higgins, Frank Fahy and Eddie Hoare. No minutes or agenda exist.

Immediately afterwards, at 11am, McGrath met with members of his management team, Ruth McNally and Patrick Greene, for a diary entry marked “office accommodation”.

From 9pm-10pm that Wednesday, July 6, McGrath met Fianna Fáil (Councillors Peter Keane, Mike Crowe, Imelda Byrne, John Connolly and Alan Cheevers). The following day, he met Collette Connolly (Ind) at 11.30am. No minutes or agendas exist.

All meetings were virtual on Microsoft Teams. Several councillors confirmed they were briefed about Crown Square but the conversations were not minuted.

McGrath did not meet Owen Hanley (Soc Dems, who voted against the loan) or Greens Martina O’Connor and Niall Murphy. Nor did he meet Mike Cubbard (Ind), who instead met Patrick Greene online at 4pm on July 5.

The Friday before the vote, an entry in the CE’s diary noted a 10.30am “visit to Crown Square” for elected members and two Council officials. The CE was “not attending”.

Briefing councillors in advance is not necessarily unusual. But doesn’t the public deserve to know what was discussed at these meetings, ahead of a vote that committed €880,000 from the Council’s budget every year for 30 years to fund the loan repayments for a project that was not put out to tender and had no public consultation?
This is a shortened preview version of this column. For more Bradley Bytes, see the April 21 edition of the Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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