FROM BAD TO WORSE:

THE COMMUNITY COUNCIL

 Community Councils are elected by the residents of the community they serve, and are accountable to them for that, right?

Well, not right - not here, anyway, we're sad to report.


Here's a little potted history.  Please do read it, even though it's quite long;  it's an interesting case study of how a community can lose its voice.


Up to 2003:

Long ago (we think 1980), a number of the good, trusted people of Cleggan and Claddaghduff and the whole Aughrus Peninsula got together, and decided to form a Community Council. They drew up a Constitution.  Bound by this Constitution, all of the residents in the area were automatically entitled to be members, and the members could annually stand for election, vote for the Council (Committee, if you prefer), propose Motions, and so on.  It was a decent, democratic process.  This Community Council was a member of Muintir na Tire - the national 'umbrella body' which helps to make sure that Community Councils are run well and democratically, for and by the communities they serve.

Over time (and, in fairness to the Community Council members of the day, due largely to apathy among the community - though no efforts were made to reduce that apathy or lack of interest in the Council), the quorum (minimum number of people attending who are eligible to vote) for Annual and Extraordinary General Meetings was reduced. We understand that over time it was reduced to nine (mind you, compared with today, when that quorum is three - see below - nine actually seems not bad! Though compared with Best Practice for Community Councils, nine is a pathetically small number).

We are given to understand that at some point - we are told 1989 - the decision was taken not to hold elections for Community Council members at all. We don't have independent verification of this, but it is what we were told by someone who (a) is 100% trustworthy, and (b) was a founding member and a member at the time the decision was made. That person resigned in protest and never had anything further to do with the Community Council.


2003 - 2014:

In 2003, unknown to 99% of the residents of this community, a sufficient number of Committee members met at a General Meeting, and they decided to change the Council - which up to then was designated an 'Unincorporated Association' - into a private Limited Company. That Company would have a Board of seven Directors (the sitting Committee/Council).  At the same time, the Constitution which had been in existence since the beginning was torn up. They resigned their membership of Muintir na Tire.


Now, in their wisdom, the now Cleggan/Claddaghduff Community Council Company Limited omitted to tell any of the residents about these changes.  That was a pity, since they were important changes. They included the following:

  • None of the residents of the area, other than those who were the Board Directors, were members of the Community Council any more.
  • None of those residents had any voice or votes or rights in relation to the Council.
  • The Board of the Community Council, as created, comprised of seven persons, 4 of whom were in fact from the same extended family.
  • No other residents of the community were members (how could they be, since no one knew about these changes outside of a 'charmed circle'?
  • The new Constitution of the Community Council did state that additional members of the Company (ie, the Community Council) would be "such other persons as the Directors shall admit membership".  In other words, the Directors had (and have) the power to decide who may or may not be members. Until 2014 (see below), they admitted none. Bear in mind that, with a majority of Direcots coming from one single extended family, that family had the power to decide who could be members (or not).
  • Although AGMs continued to be advertised and run, they weren't actually AGMs in the accepted sense of the word:  they were merely information meetings. The real AGMs took place behind closed doors, with only the Directors present.
  • The quorum (number of members attending, eligible to vote) for a General Meeting was established within the Company's Constitution - at THREE. Only THREE Company members (including Directors) were sufficient to hold a General Meeting and pass special resolutions, vote for Board Directors, etc.
  • Occasionally, a Director would resign, and be replaced by a new Director of the Board's own choosing.
  • The Company took into their ownership the Cleggan Community Centre, valued at €350,000.  In effect, the Directors came to own that Centre, and the residents didn't.

And no one else knew - or, if they did, they weren't telling!


2014:

In 2014, a resident of the area noted that:

(a) the membership of the Council (Committee, if you like, though actually it was by then a Board of Directors) never seemed to change;

(b) no one seemed to know what was going on in the community - and what was going on didn't amount to very much; and:

(c) minutes or accounts were not published;

(d) most of the residents had more or less forgotten about the Council - after all, they had no say, they had no vote, and they had no feedback (the Board of Directors chose to interpret this as meaning that the community just didn't care, were apathetic, wouldn't get involved..."Sure you can't even get a quorum for the AGMs" was said (even though the AGMs weren't real, and the quorum idea in the original Constitution was long forgotten).

A couple of months before the 2014 'AGM', the resident wrote to the Hon Sec of the Council, and asked for a copy of the Constitution; and was duly sent a copy of the original Constitution (the pre-2003 one, although no one knew that was long, long out of date).  She then spent a long time writing a set of five Motions for change, which included:

  • No member of the Council Committee could remain a member for more than three consecutive years (Officers could remain for up to five)
  • Most of the work of the Council would be done by inviting interested residents to work on specific tasks they were interested in - their recommendations going to the Council for discussion/amendment/approval
  • Minutes and accounts would be published for all to see
  • The Council would concern itself (via Working Groups) with such things as drawing up plans to develop the area economically and socially, for the betterment of the people

The resident circulated summaries of these Motions to as many others as possible; and lo and behold:  The 'AGM' was packed to standing room only and beyond, by the so-called apathetic residents.


Here comes the interesting bit.  The Committee (Council...Board) had their auditor along.  She was given the task of explaining that:

  • The Council was now a Limited Company with seven members (the Board)
  • No one else present was a member or had any rights
  • No Motions could be put for discussion or voting
  • The 'AGM' people thought they were attending was not in fact an AGM - the real AGM would take place after everyone else had left.

This annoyed a lot of people, and eventually the Board stated that residents would be allowed to 'apply' for membership.  Indeed, some of those attending signed a book provided by the Board, saying they wished to be members - although that did not, in reality, make them 'members' of anything. There were in fact no procedures by which members could become members (in fact, afterwards the auditors insisted for a time that residents must pay an annual membership fee, though this was so unacceptable that it was eventually dropped).


JANUARY 2015:

Four months after the so-called 'AGM', a letter was circulated to all (well, almost all) residents, telling them they could apply for membership of the Council.  It told them other things, too - for example, that membership could mean that members could be required by the Board to undertake certain duties and responsibilities.

The letter implied that people could again vote, stand for election, propose motions, etc., although it didn't tell the residents how they could do so.

We gather that, apart from the Board (and maybe some of the Board members' close families), around 20 residents from this whole area signed up and returned the form.  The Board again chose to interpret this to mean that the community was apathetic and disinterested - even though so many had turned up at the previous so-called 'AGM'! In reality, people were disgusted, angry, disillusioned, switched off.


OCTOBER 2015:

In September 2015, notices were posted in Cleggan and Claddaghduff shop windows, giving a date for the 'AGM' of the Community Council Company Limited (actually, now, under the 2014 Companies Act, the "Cleggan / Claddaghduff Community Council Company Limited by Guarantee".


During that month, the Board wrote to (we think) most of those who had signed "Yes" to membership at the 2014 AGM but who had not followed up by filling in the application form to actually join.  This letter invited the addressees to fill in the form and join; and it enclosed what it said was a copy of the letter sent out the previous January.

Actually, it wasn't the same letter at all. It looked a bit like the previous letter, but the main offensive parts weren't there. It looked like progress towards a new, perhaps democratic Council/Board.

On the face of that new version of the "January letter", the same resident as had proposed the Motions for Change in 2014 decided to join.  Not only that: she sought permission to address the AGM.  And she wrote a speech, in which she set out the Motions of the previous year - but this time not as Motions, but as suggestions which the Board might consider, with a view to traveling further towards democracy.

At the meeting, the resident read out the key parts of the speech she had written.  BUT...the Board would have none of it. If this resident thought that the local residents gave two hoots about being involved in the work of the Council, well, she had another think coming: so far as the Board were concerned, the ideas were ridiculous and so they were ridiculed.


And what now?

What indeed?  Nothing has changed, really.  The Board is still in place. We hear that two additional members have been appointed (by the Board, presumably, though we can't say for sure, since there seemed little point in staying at the meeting till the bitter end and being continuously ridiculed).

The Board gave no hearing to the idea that Board members might stand down and be replaced after a decent period;  or to the idea that a clear and simple set of rules and procedures might be drawn up to tell the residents how they might exercise their rights to vote, or stand for election, or propose Motions.

Nothing, it would appear, has changed.


AND THAT, DEAR READER, IS THE STORY OF HOW A COMMUNITY LOST ITS RIGHTS REGARDING THE 'COMMUNITY COUNCIL' WHICH IS SUPPOSED TO SERVE IT. AND LOST ITS COMMUNITY HALL TO A GROUP OF DIRECTORS ANSWERABLE TO NO ONE.


IT'S A SORRY TALE.


Will the story end here?  WILL IT HELL? 

WATCH THIS SPACE.


To the best of our ability, we have told the history of our Community Council as accurately as we can. We believe that all of the details are correct. If there are inaccuracies, these are not deliberate and we apologise for them.