Friday, 22 June 2007

Council members face ban after court decision

THREE county councillors will be thrown off their local authority within seven days and banned from holding office for five years unless they each pay €64,000 in a blazing row over a pet crematorium.

The Wicklow councillors, including Labour's Nicky Kelly, have just been given the ultimatum by Eddie Sheehy, the Wicklow County Manager, but plan to go to the Supreme Court today to fight back.

The removal from office, which is automatic under law if they refuse to pay the money to the council, would be unprecedented in local government history.

It arose after the three councillors were hit with a huge legal bill arising from an unsuccessful High Court challenge to a decision by Mr Sheehy to grant planning permission for the conversion of a milking parlour into a pet crematorium at Oghill, Redcross.


The council confirmed to the Irish Independent yesterday that Mr Sheehy had written to the three councillors seeking the costs within a week and advising them of the mandatory disqualification.

If the money is not paid within seven days, they will be disqualified from the council for five years, a spokesperson added.

Where a councillor fails to comply with a court order in relation to monies owed to any local authority, the Local Government Act 2001 specifically provides for the automatic disqualification of that councillor.

In a statement yesterday, the council said that in July 2000, councillors passed a Section 4 planning motion directing the former county manager to refuse planning permission for the crematorium.

The manager, having considered the direction of the councillors and following legal and planning advice, decided to grant permission for the development, subject to a number of conditions.

"Despite being advised in writing by the then county secretary that any member causing legal proceedings to be issued would be personally liable for any costs arising, a small number of individual councillors did take legal proceedings in the High Court in relation to this matter," the statement added.

Following a lengthy legal process, the High Court in its judgment found that the former county manager was correct in his decision.

The councillors - Mr Kelly, Pat Doran (Ind) and Tommy Cullen (Ind) - are to go to the Supreme Court today to seek a stay on the order against them.

The council said the costs were taxed (ie, assessed) by the Taxing Master in October, 2006 at €184,985.29 but had not yet been paid.


Mr Kelly said yesterday: "The action was taken for the common good. We were acting for our constituents. There is no precedent for this ultimatum."

He was seeking an urgent meeting with new Environment Minister John Gormley on the matter.

In judgment, Mr JusticeO Caoimh said it was clear the proceedings instituted in the name of Wicklow County Council were at no time authorised by members of the council and in fact were commenced on the instructions of three members who did not have authority from other members to institute them.

Treacy Hogan
Irish Independent

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