New Act used to oust councillor
BY ROISIN DE ROSA
In a move that has wider ramifications for elected representatives throughout the 26 Counties, independent commissioner Eddie Walsh was recently temporarily disqualified from membership of Tramore Town Commission in Waterford for refusing to pay service charges.
Walsh was thrown off the commission by a court decree under Section 6(1)(m) of the 1994 Local Government Act. This legislation states that someone can be disqualified from a local authority if that person fails to comply with a court decree for payment of money due to a local authority.
Eddie Walsh was first elected to the town commission in 1994. One of the planks of his election campaign was his opposition to service charges, which he refused to pay. ``I was threatened with Stubbs Gazette, the courts, the sheriff and so forth'', but a staunch member of the water rates campaign, Walsh continued to refuse payment.
In 1999, he was re-elected to the town commission. On 4 November, Waterford County Council secured a court decree, ordering him to pay the charges. He did not pay. ``This was why I was elected,'' he says, ``to represent the many people who hold this extra tax through service charges to be unjust.''
On 8 March, the town clerk handed Eddie Walsh a note informing him that he was disqualified from membership of a local authority by virtue of his failure to comply with the court order. This not only disqualified Walsh, but the Local Government Act allowed the other commissioners to co-opt a replacement.
The crisis has since been averted, as the money was anonymously paid, which meant that Walsh keeps his seat. He regards the payment as ``a great pity'', however.
``I would have taken this disenfranchisement to the highest court in the land. The decree was an outrage against democracy. You wonder was this section introduced into the 1994 Act exactly with this in mind - that those councillors who refuse to pay unjust charges, like waste charges, sewerage or water rates, would be barred from membership of the councils. Is this their way of dealing with the people's opposition?''