*Cllr Mary Howard. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Clare councillors were drawn into a dispute when it came to the appropriate title of the county’s first citizen which the incumbent labelled “an ambush”.
Citing the Local Government Act 2014 a joint motion from Cllr Paul Murphy (FG), Cllr Ann Norton (IND) and Cllr Mark Nestor (FF) detailed “in the case of County Clare the only allowable use of the title of Mayor is for the position of Mayor of Ennis. There is no position of Mayor of Clare. Therefore, I request that the executive use the correct titles of Cathaoirleach of County Clare and Mayor of Ennis in all correspondence and media releases”.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting of the local authority, Cllr Murphy described himself as “a traditionalist” and flagged that the chain of office uses the word Cathaoirleach. He accused the Council of not adhering to the Local Government Act.
Contributing to the meeting in the Irish language, Cllr Nestor felt a lack of Irish was being used in the county and commented that there was nothing personal from his reasons for co-signing the motion but rather he wanted more respect for the language.
Ennis is entitled to having a Mayor but Co Clare is not, Cllr Ann Norton (IND) told the meeting. “I find it difficult with the fact that the legislation is there, I feel we as a Municipal District that the Mayor of our town is being undermined and it is a prestigious office to hold”. She urged the Council Executive and local media to refer to the title of Cathaoirleach and not Mayor and flagged that the legislation had not changed.
Cratloe representative, Cllr PJ Ryan (IND) is expected to be elected as the next first citizen of the county in June. He shared his understanding that the use of the title was optional and that the chain in fact said the word Mayor. “I have never yet heard anyone representing their county at a St Patrick’s Parade be referred to anything other than the Mayor”. He agreed that the Irish language should be respected but believed it was time to review the legislation.
Recalling his experience, Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) noted that he received much better reactions from crowds in Australia and China when addressed as the Mayor rather than Cathaoirleach. “The term Mayor is used all over the world and recognised all over, much more than Cathaoirleach. Whether we like it or not, when we move outside of Ireland the Mayor is the title used”.
Seeing the motion on the agenda surprised Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF). She felt it was “inappropriate and premature” to table it given that agreement was reached at the last Ennis MD meeting that management would revert to the elected representatives on the matter. She said she had an “unease” with the motion which she coined “an ambush against the sitting the Mayor”. She asked Cllr Norton to showcase the evidence of the Mayor of Ennis MD being undermined and noted incorrect wording was used in the motion. “This motion’s centrality is about titles and roles, I consider it incredibly inappropriate with regard to timing where we are middle of medical emergency”.
Timing of the motion was also criticised by Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG). “We are in a time that we need to be united, a spirit which has been shown by the Mayor and her predecessors in office”. He asked that the proposal be withdrawn. Changing the title from Mayor was “a major mistake,” Cllr Pat Daly (FF) maintained as he backed calls for the proposal to be removed from the floor.
Legislation has been interpreted correctly by the proposers, Pat Dowling outlined. The wording of Mayor or Cathaoirleach is dictated by councillors, the Chief Executive said. “I don’t think it will cause much upset given everything that is going on in the world. I have found that title of Cathaoirleach does pose difficulties internationally”.
“It does feel like an ambush,” Cllr Mary Howard (FG), the county’s first citizen admitted. “I find it hard not to take offence and take it personally considering it is my three my Municipal District colleagues that put forward the motion”. She added, “I don’t mind what I’m called but I find this whole thing is distasteful”.
In response, Cllr Norton declared that it wasn’t an ambush or anything personal, “it is about the legislation”. She questioned if the County Council were breaking the law and called the remarks of Colleran Molloy insulting, “being a barrister and solicitor, she should understand the law of the day, this is something that needs to be questioned”. She said certain councillors were “ashamed” to use the title of Cathaoirleach.
Aspersions cast by fellow councillors were received as personal digs, Cllr Murphy said. He insisted he was not withdrawing the motion.
Councillors later told The Clare Echo they found the discussion to be “embarrassing”, “a joke” and “a storm in a teacup”.