"AGM" - 6th OCTOBER 2014


The area had its GUBU moment on Monday night of this week (week beginning 5th October 2014).  Many of you will readily remember this phrase, coined by Conor Cruise-O'Brien, back in 1982:  Grotesque, Unbelievable, Bizarre, and Unprecedented - and I think it applies peculiarly well here.

On the night of Monday, 6th October, perhaps unusually, Cleggan Community Centre was packed, with standing room only for many of those who turned up for they had believed to be - and indeed was advertised as - the Annual General Meeting of the Cleggan-Claddaghduff Community Council. 

Now, I say "believed", because it turned out on the night, to almost everybody's surprise and I would say even shock, that it was not in fact an AGM at all!  In fact, it turned out that the Council has changed, and changed utterly.  In the Council's long-standing Constitution, it states that all residents in the area over the age of sixteen have the right to vote and to stand for election.  And indeed, in a letter to me from the Council concerning Council AGMs - I had asked for information on the Constitution and Standing Orders for the Community Council - a reply from the Council, on Council letterhead, dated 7th May of this year, and signed by the then Chairman of the Community Council, it states that - and I quote - "all residents of the Cleggan and Claddaghduff  area are entitled to attend, propose motions and vote". 

But on Monday night, the local residents attending were informed that in effect that long-standing Constitution has been torn up, that none of it applies any more.  They were told that the meeting they were attending wasn't an AGM at all, that no elections would - or could - take place, and no proposals would or could be made.  They were told that, since the Council has been formed into a Limited Company and a Registered Charity, with a small number of fixed Directors, the AGM proper of the Council would take place after the others had left the meeting, behind closed doors. 

The situation as it now stands means that residents of the area no longer have the automatic right to vote for their Council, to stand for election, or to propose motions for change.  Instead, they must apply to the small number of people who run the Company which controls the Council, to seek the right to have a voice.  In effect, the residents of the area have been disenfranchised, at the level of the Community:  they have no control or voice at all over how the Council is run, and the Council is made up of a small number of people who have the sole authority to make decisions on behalf of the Community. 

No surprise, then, that a large number of those attending expressed their astonishment and alarm at the way things have been changed - at the complete lack of local democracy that is the new dispensation in the area.  The meeting was, however, told that that's the way it now is, and that there was nothing that could be done about it.  Most of those attending, including myself, were amazed by what was revealed.

The reality before that meeting was that almost 100% of the community were unaware of these changes, for they hadn't been informed of them.  It's my belief that still, following the meeting, the vast majority of those living in this area don't know that they have lost their automatic right to be members of the community, with the rights to vote, propose motions, or stand for election.  That's the main reason for outlining it here.

It turns out, as I understand it, that after most people had left the meeting, the Council decided that a few people were, after all, to be considered members with a right to stand for election, or I should perhaps more accurately say nomination, to the Council.  They appointed a new Chairperson, and I would like to take this opportunity to wish Jackie Hannon the very best of luck in serving in this role.  And, as I understand it, Terry Minogue and Kenneth De Lappe were declared members and appointed to the Council.  I wish them also the very best of luck. 

It's my belief, backed up by the letter to me four months ago, that the sitting Council themselves hadn't informed themselves of the new situation that now applies.  Not to believe that would be to imply that they had deliberately misled me, and I don't for one minute think that.  The only other explanation is that they were indeed unaware of how their own Council now operates - this despite the fact that the Council was established as a Limited Company back in 2003: 11 years ago. 

The situation as it currently stands is a difficult one, one that further increases the divide between the Council and the community which it serves.  The meeting on Monday evoked considerable annoyance and frustration all round  What happened brings to my mind the lines from the Book of Psalms:

"You have shown your people hard things;

You have made us drink the wine of confusion."  (60th Psalm)

 It isn't a tenable situation for any length of time, since not so many people will feel that they wish to contribute to community affairs under such a Council.  What then will happen?  Who can say.  But many in this area will be waiting impatiently for the Directors of the Cleggan Claddaghduff Community Council Co Ltd to act, in order to restore an expected level of local democracy and self-determination to this area - and especially to inform everyone in the community, clearly and accurately, about how the Council is to operate democratically and above all openly, from here on.  We'll report on any developments that come to light.

Heather Greer