Chaos at Louth County Council meeting amid 'dysfunction' bust-up
Louth County Council’s March meeting descended into chaos on Monday after a Sinn Féin councillor claimed his party was defamed by Director of Services Frank Pentony. Mr Pentony was reacting to a claim by Sinn Fein’s Tomas Sharkey that the council was “dysfunctional”.
“I’m not happy to sit here and accept I’m dysfunctional,” Mr Pentony told the chamber, before adding: “I do not take lightly to being assassinated by Sinn Féin at the top table. They’re good at that, they always were.”
The remark enraged Cllr Sharkey, who called it “disgusting” and claimed it was defamatory. Mr Pentony later withdrew his remark.
The lengthy exchanges arose from contributions made by Cllr Sharkey during an extended segment of the monthly management report presented by CEO Joan Martin.
Cllr Sharkey labelled the council ‘dysfunctional’ several times, much to the ire of councillors from other parties who felt the remark was not only in reference to the body, but a slight on their work also.
“The dysfunction is all over the walls for all of us to see,”Sharkey said.
“Decisions cannot be made properly because of poor information available. I am asking for a full audit of how we do our work.
“It’s only a matter of time before we’re before Public Accounts Committee,” he added.
The Chief Executive refuted Sharkey’s assertion that the local authority was dysfunctional before the chamber broke for a tea break.
“The Public Accounts Committee has no function in local government. I would refute any suggestion that we are dysfunctional. It’s easy to make that statement,” Ms Martin said. “You haven’t put out a lot of evidence.
Ms Martin asked Cllr Sharkey to withdraw his ‘dysfunctional’ comment, to which Sharkey replied, “No.”
“As a public representative, I can’t and I won’t withdraw my statement about the dysfunction. It is my view that there is dysfunction. That is why we had a debacle in December about our estimates.”
Upon the meeting’s resumption, tempers were still high, and Sharkey’s comments provoked the furious reaction from Director of Services Frank Pentony.
“I’m not happy to sit here and accept I’m dysfunctional,” Pentony said before remarking, “I do not take lightly to being assassinated by Sinn Féin at the top table. They’re good at that, they always were.”
“That’s a disgusting remark, a disgraceful remark,” Cllr Sharkey bellowed. “How dare any public servant make any such remark. That’s a slight on all of us. Public servants are going outside of the law and defaming public representatives.
“A Louth County Council being run and managed by people with those views has no credibility. We have legal rights not to be assassinated at a council meeting.”
After an unscheduled adjournment, the meeting recommenced and Pentony withdrew his comments. However, Cllr Sharkey said he felt his party’s representatives had been defamed. He refused to withdraw his ‘dysfunction’ comment.
“I have a clear understanding of dysfunction and relationships in the Chamber between councillors and officials. For us not to accept there is dysfunction in the council, we accept there is no work to do.
“I believe each and every member of Sinn Féin in Louth County Council was defamed. An allegation of criminal activity was made.”
Cathaoirleach Colm Markey worked hard to keep order as the meeting looked to be heading for a further adjournment.
“This is not the forum to deal with it,” he said. “We have got an apology. I do not accept the council as a whole is dysfunctional. There always is [work to do] every day of the week.
“The person in question has apologised,” he told Cllr Sharkey. “It was a very strong thing to come in and apologise.”
CEO Joan Martin left the meeting just after the return from the break for refreshments. She was in her seat as the meeting resumed but left hastily within minutes. She did not return and was not present as Sharkey and Pentony clashed.