Fresh revelations have emerged over the 'jobs for the boys' controversy that has brought the Fine Gael party on Mayo County Council into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The 17-strong lobby caused political consternation by forcing the timing of Castlebar party member and former councillor Kevin Guthrie's resignation from MayoVocational Educational Committee in order to avoid having to give the seat away to a member of an opposing party due to a gender balance requirement.
Councillor Brendan Henaghan alleged he was used as a conduit to seek Mr. Guthrie's resignation 'without being made aware of the full facts.'
He revealed: "I received a telephone call from a senior party member on Sunday morning, March 20, asking me if I was interesting in filling a vacancy on Mayo VEC as there was a likelihood of Kevin Guthrie resigning.
"I told the person, who was an honest broker, I would speak to Kevin and a number of my town council colleague before giving my answer.
"When I spoke to Kevin, he said he would step down if I was interested in replacing him. He had not been able to attend meetings because he was working abroad, but he did tender his apologies.
"I contacted Councillor Noreen Heston and Councillor Michael Kilcoyne to see if they had any problem in respect of me replacing Kevin on the VEC. They said they were fully supportive. I also had the support of Councillor Ger Deere and Councillor Eugene McCormack.
"When I heard on Monday afternoon that the members of the Fine Gael party on Mayo County Council had changed their minds about offering Deputy Michelle Mulherin's position on the VEC to another female councillor and used Kevin Guthrie's resignation as a way of doing so, I was stunned. It left me with a feeling of betrayal.
"If I had known that my making contact with Kevin Guthrie on the previous morning was part of the process of putting newly-opted Councillor John O'Hara on the VEC instead of a female representative in line with gender balance requirements, I would never have made that telephone call.
"It saddens me to say it publicly. But the episode has shown up the Fine Gael party on Mayo County Council to be made up of power-mad moguls.
"There are a lot of questions to be answered and I will be writing a letter of complaint to the chairman of the group, Councillor Henry Kenny. I also intend to highlight my grievances at Fine Gael branch level.
"What happened is not acceptable and people within the party need to stand up and say so. The finger of blame is being pointed in a number of directions, but I'm not going to get into that.
"What I will say, however, is that the Fine Gael members on the county council shafted one of their own party's elected representative for questionable gains."
Councillor Henaghan said another Fine Gael member of the VEC, Councillor Theresa McGuire, was in the same position as Kevin Guthrie after missing six consecutive meetings but she was not asked to resign.
"Kevin was under no obligation to resign but he was made a fall guy. I don't think the party has done itself any favours. Some elected party members on the county council were happy to look down their noses at Castlebar Town Council. It may have related to the resignation of Councillor Noreen Heston last year and the subsequent fall-out.
"But they should have moved on from that a long time ago. Clearly they have not. I am confident the Fine Gael members of the town council will show greater maturity when it comes to filling the vacancy on the VEC created by Kevin Guthrie's resignation. I believe we will do the right thing by offering the seat to our Deputy Mayor, Councillor Thérése Ruane. She would make a very fine and capable member of the committee," added Councillor Henaghan.
If that turns out to be the case, then Fine Gael's poor leadership qualities at county council level will have cost the party a seat on the VEC, although it will still hold a strong majority.
However, the generally poor attendances at VEC meetings is understood to be attributed to Fine Gael's monopolising of key positions at the last annual general meeting as well as the high-profile blocking of leading educationalist Tony Deffely who had been nominated to the committee in December 2009.
It will be interesting to hear the views of committee members at the next scheduled meeting on March 31.
Meanwhile, the chairman of Mayo VEC, Councillor Jarlath Munnelly, has defended the decision of Mayo County Council to replace Deputy Michelle Mulherin on the committee with newly co-opted Councillor John O'Hara.
He stated: "The gender balance requirement is spread right across the committee and is not confined to the Mayo County Council nominees. The same amount of women will be on the VEC when the process of filling the vacancies is completed.
"Castlebar Town Council will now be in a position to nominate one woman and one man in the same way as the other two town councils in the county. Unlike the county council, the town councils also have the option of nominating non-elected representatives. I will be happy with whatever decision they reach."
Councillor Munnelly did not comment on the claim that the Fine Gael party on the county council had effectively 'passed the buck' to its party members on Castlebar Town Council.
The attendance of Labour Party Councillor Harry Barrett at VEC meetings is likely to be discussed when Castlebar Town Council deals with the issue of nominating Kevin Guthrie's replacement to the VEC.
"What happened is not acceptable and people within the party need to stand up and say so. The Fine Gael members on the county council shafted one of their own party's elected representatives for questionable gains." – Councillor Brendan Heneghan.
"Castlebar Town Council will now be in a position to nominate one woman and one man in the same way as the other two town councils in the county." – Councillor Jarlath Munnelly.