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Local council chairman’s role decided by draw as Fine Gael candidate defies party pact

Laois County Council Paschal McEvoy

The AGM of the Graiguecullen-Portarlington Municipal District took place in the Laois County Council chamber this afternoon where the only real item of note was to elect a new chairperson.

In normal circumstances this would have been a straight-forward piece of business as an agreement between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in the council has seen them share the various positions between them.

Fianna Fáil’s Padraig Fleming had been chair for the past 12 months with his party colleague Paschal McEvoy set to replace him.

With Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil having two seats each and the technical group (made up of Sinn Féin’s Aidan Mullins and independent Ben Brennan) having only two, it should be a routine vote and 4-2 in favour of the agreed Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael candidate.

But a significant fly in the ointment came when Fine Gael’s Aisling Moran was nominated for the chair by Cllr Brennan – and she duly accepted the nomination.

The drama follows on from a similar saga last year when Cllr Ben Brennan was elected to the vice-chair role as Cllr Moran withdrew in his favour. 

Cllr Moran – who joined the meeting remotely – said she was voting against the arrangement as “I’m constantly blocked by ye”. “When I started asking questions on Junction 17, the Cube – I’m constantly blocked.

“I was elected to ask hard questions to break a broken system. The only support I’m getting is from the technical group. Without that I wouldn’t be able to do my work.

“Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are not working with me. That’s when you need the support of your group. For that reason, I’m going with the boys.”

Cllr Fleming said he took exception to the accusation that his party didn’t work with Cllr Moran.

Amid claims from Cllr Brennan from the floor that he was “dictating” and “trying to swing Aisling”, Cllr Fleming said: “An agreement was made, I’m entitled to say you’re going against it.”

It meant that when the vote was called – following significant reservations being expressed by Cllr Fleming – it was a 3-3 tie. Cllrs Brennan, Moran and Mullins voting for Moran and Cllr McEvoy, Fleming and PJ Kelly voting for McEvoy.

In that instance, the tie-breaker was quite simple: the two names were put into a hat. Cllr McEvoy’s name was drawn out, ensuring that he will chair the muncipal district for the next 12 months.

A similar saga followed for the role of vice-chair where Cllr Moran supported Cllr Ben Brennan – and voted against her party colleague Cllr PJ Kelly, mirroring Cllr Kelly’s vote against Cllr Moran for the chair’s role in favour of Cllr McEvoy.

Another 3-3 tie ensued, again requiring a tie-breaker draw. Again it went the way of the FF/FG arrangement with Cllr Kelly’s name pulled from the hat.

Cllr Moran’s decision to vote against the existing arrangement may lead to repercussions (including potential loss of the party whip) within Fine Gael ahead of a full council meeting on Monday week.

SEE ALSO – Laois’s newest Councillor elected chairman of Portlaoise Municipal District