Council Candidates Intimidating Constituents

There’s a remarkable story doing the rounds at the moment about a Labour Council candidate in Westmeath sending a  litter warden to investigate a woman who tore up one of his leaflets, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.

gerry sheridan litter complaint

It reminded me of a story I was told recently concerning Fianna Fáil candidates in Limerick who put election literature through a letter-box marked No junk mail.  The person who told me this was the householder involved, and I believe him.

When he found the offending flyer, he went out and saw two canvassers at his neighbour’s door.

Excuse me.  Did you read the sign?

What sign?

The one that says No junk mail.

That’s not junk mail.  I paid for it.

If it comes through my letterbox and it doesn’t have my name on it, it’s junk mail.  And now it’s going in the bin.

Don’t you dare put that leaflet in the bin.  It’s my property.  I paid for it.

Get stuffed.

Any chance of a vote?

Now, if that was me, I know that I’d have torn up the leaflet right there in front of him, just to annoy the arrogant clown, and that’s precisely what Michelle Byrne did when Gerry Sheridan turned up at her door.  Gerry, incidentally, is a former Council official and now a member of Mullingar town council.

What did Gerry do when Michelle tore up his leaflet?  In his own words he “reported” her to the Council for littering.  That word reported is very revealing, because it betrays the fact that Gerry has never shaken off his authoritarian official mindset.  But even more revealing than Gerry’s little act of retaliation was the response of Westmeath County Council, who promptly sent a litter warden, from the department Gerry used to work in, to investigate.

The warden, citing an incident with a candidate the day before, found a piece of a torn-up leaflet and on the basis of that evidence, Michelle was served with a notice demanding €150.  It seems Gerry still has friends back at HQ who were prepared to investigate this allegation of littering from their former work colleague.

Of course, the attempt to fine Michelle Byrne is nonsense, since the Council will be completely unable to prove in court that the piece of paper found on the road was put there by her.  For all we know, Gerry might have accidentally dropped it in a fit of rage while tearing his hair out.  A judge would kick this one out immediately and I hope Michelle fights it.

However, more importantly, I hope Westmeath County Manager, Pat Gallagher, investigates the actions of those staff who seem to have facilitated Gerry Sheridan in his attempts to punish a recalcitrant citizen.  After all, there’s no doubt that litter wardens have important jobs to do, but they also have to prioritise, given the restrictions on available staff.  Is it credible that a litter warden’s time is used to best effect by  driving to Michelle Byrne’s home, searching for a small piece of paper and going to court seeking a conviction?

Do they do this all the time?  In my view, it stretches credibility beyond breaking point.

Likewise, I hope Michelle or somebody else makes an official littering complaint against Gerry Sheridan for attaching his election posters to poles, unless he has express written permission to do so.  No doubt the Council’s Environment directorate (where Gerry used to work) will be just as quick to follow up on that complaint, and with any luck, Gerry and Michelle might meet up in court as defendants.

I know who I think would walk out of court with a hefty fine.



Gerry Sheridan immediately collapsed under the weight of public ridicule and paid Michelle’s fine.  It’s a pity that she agreed to accept this instead of going to court and calling his  bluff by forcing him to testify, but the matter is not yet finished, since the county council still need to explain their actions in this ridiculous little debacle.



Local Elections 2014 — What Powers do Local Councillors Have?

It’s local election time, that traditional season where prospective councillors tell you complete lies, and I thought maybe it would be a good time for a little refresher on precisely what powers they have and what powers they do not have.  The second list is considerably longer than the first.

Councillors individually have no powers at all.  They have no authority, no budget and nobody reports to them.  A councillor cannot get you a house.  A councillor cannot get your road resurfaced.  A councillor cannot get you permission to build your dream home.

As a group, they also have no decision-making powers, in the executive sense.  Their only role is in setting policy, to a very limited extent, covering only the roles set out in law.  These are sanitation, housing, roads, planning and environment, with a mixed bag of miscellaneous items thrown in, mostly to do with cheese and wine.  The role of councillors is strictly confined to broad policy, not specifics.

Even in the roads category, councillors have no responsibility for roads managed by the NRA, although they are fairly fond of sending deputations to Dublin for the benefit of the local papers.  Half an hour with the NRA, a day mooching around Dublin, a few pints and a nice T&S claim for everyone in the audience.  How bad?

Councils have no role whatsoever in national legislation, health, policing, agriculture or foreign affairs.  They only have a role in education to the extent that seats are reserved on VEC boards for local representatives, but again, these powers are strictly limited to policy.  A councillor can’t get your little genius into your school of choice.

If a candidate’s election literature says they’re against property tax, tear it up and throw it out.  Councils have no function in regard to taxation and no influence.   Likewise, if a candidate is against water charges, congratulate them and then ask them what that has to do with being a councillor, since it’s outside the scope of their brief.  They’re scamming you.

A law-and-order councillor is a useless councillor since they have no role in that area.  A pro-farmer councillor is a waste of space, since agriculture is not one of the prescribed areas for which local authorities have responsibility.  A councillor who has a position on Irish policy abroad is a bullshitter who needs to be shown the door.  A councillor who claims to be pro-sport is a chancer.  A councillor who promises to work for better healthcare is a liar.  A councillor who wants to shorten the dole queues needs to be sacked.  A councillor who tells you he’s working for education or the local economy is just looking for a free junket to China.

Councillors have no role in any of these things, or for that matter in food safety, immigration, mortgage resolution, curbing prostitution, teenage drunkenness or tv licences.  This is a classic example, from a character running for Galway County Council.

Let me repeat: they’re responsible for policy-making on a very narrow range of issues and individually they have no power at all.

Many people believe the Mayor is the boss of the council.

This is false.

Mayors are just elected councillors like all the rest, with a few minor procedural responsibilities but no executive power whatever. They have no budget, no authority and no staff.  Nobody reports to them.  A Mayor is just a person who chairs council meetings, signs the minutes and nothing more, apart from the dubious authority to extend the tenure of a city or county manager, which can lead to a certain conflict of interest.

If you want a favour done, you’d be far better advised to make friends with the janitor who’s probably on good terms with those staff-members who actually have some authority to make decisions.

Here’s a checklist.  Print it out and keep it by the front door for when they arrive looking for your vote.

Powers of local councillors
Individual powers NONE
Collective powers Planning policy YES
Planning decisions NO
Sanitation policy YES
Sanitation decisions NO
Roads policy YES
Selecting roadworks NO
Motorways NO
Employment NO
Policing NO
Housing policy YES
Allocation of housing NO
Selecting houses for repair NO
Selecting houses for improvement NO
Water supply NO
Water charges NO
Property tax NO
Education NO
Health NO
Agriculture NO
Foreign affairs NO
Social welfare NO
Sport NO
Youth work NO











Separated at Birth, Part 2

It looks like Susan Boyle isn’t the only celebrity running for election to Limerick City Council.

Salvador Dalí has decided to throw his hat in the ring too.

Before we know it, Limerick City Council will be full of talented artists, unlike the piss-artists we have at the moment.