Councillors Lawlor and Staples deny any wrong-doing with €400 payment
Councillors George Lawlor and Frank Staples have both vehemently denied that there was any wrongdoing involved in the payment of €400 by the Labour councillor to the Fine Gael man five years ago in connection with an agreement over the position of Mayor.
Sinn Féin councillor Tom Forde made a reference during last Monday night's mayoral election to having heard rumours of 'financial arrangements' in relation to mayoral pacts.
Cllrs. Lawlor and Staples then publicly confirmed the next day that money had changed hands between them in 2014, but only to cover out-of-pocket expenses incurred by Staples as Deputy Mayor.
Cllr. Lawlor who was elected as the current Mayor at last week's Annual Meeting with the support of a new pact, insisted that the payment was not a condition of Cllr. Staples signing up to the 2014 mayoral agreement made between the pair and four other councillors -Ger Carthy, Jim Moore, Tony Dempsey and the late Fergie Kehoe.
Cllr. Staples said the matter of a payment was 'spoken about' at the meeting that took place between the six councillors to discuss the pact and 'different amounts of money were discussed'.
The Fine Gael councillor said he and Cllr. Lawlor subsequently agreed on €400 as €500 had been the official payment to a Deputy Mayor prior to the local government changes introduced in 2014 at the start of a new 10-seater Wexford Municipal District.
'George and I sat down and said, this is the figure. There would have been other figures mentioned at the original meeting but after that it was down to me and George'.', said Cllr. Staples.
'I never brought it up at any other meeting. I didn't discuss the amount afterwards with the others. There wasn't a meeting.'
Cllr. Staples was to be Deputy Mayor three times, during the mayoralties of Cllr. Lawlor, Cllr. Kehoe and Cllr. Dempsey. As the the other four councillors had finished higher in the polls, the fifth Mayoral term was between Cllr. Kehoe and Cllr. Staples.
Cllr. Staples said that as the late Cllr. Kehoe had more experience in the Borough, he suggested that he should do it.
Cllr. Staples said the question of a payment was only discussed at one meeting between the six,the meeting where they agreed on a mayoral pact and after that the amount was agreed between himself and Cllr. Lawlor.
The payment was to cover petrol and other expenses incurred by him as Deputy Mayor. Cllr. Lawlor's term as Mayor was followed by Cllr. Carthy's mayoralty. Tragically, Cllr. Kehoe who was to be Mayor in the third year, passed away and Cllr. Staples went on to become Mayor.
'I gave back the money to George. He didn't ask me for it. When I became Mayor I just said 'here you are', said Cllr. Staples.
Commenting on rumours that a larger amount of money changed hands, Cllr. Staples said: 'George gave me €400. I've heard it was supposed to be €1,200. I don't know where that figure came out of. Every day it's getting bigger'.
Cllr. Staples said Cllr. Lawlor rang him last Tuesday after Cllr. Forde raised the question of financial transactions in connect with pacts at the Mayoral Election in Wexford Arts Centre the night before.
Cllr. Staples said both of them agreed to 'hold our hands up' and make a public statement about it.
'Obviously, now that this has all happened, it wasn't the best arrangement', said Cllr. Staples.
Cllr. Staples said he had 'found the last few days difficult' and had decided not to read any of the comments on social media, apart from one or two.
Cllr. Lawlor said he had two discussions with Cllr. Forde before the Mayor election last Monday, the first earlier in the day and the second outside the Arts Centre that evening.
Cllr. Forde asked him about the payment of money to Cllr. Staples and he replied that 'absolutely yes, that did happen', he said.
He asked him again outside the Arts Centre and he confirmed again that money had changed hands.
'I wasn't concealing anything. Nobody was saying anything about it but it wasn't a secret', he said.
Cllr. Lawlor recalled that 2014 was the first year of the new Municipal District when 10 members were elected to the Council and six votes were required to clinch a mayoral pact.
It 'went down to the wire' before a pact was agreed that year, with Cllr. Ger Carthy eventually supporting it, and in the end, the mayoral election was held in the council chamber rather than the Arts Centre.
As Cllr. Staples was not going to be Mayor, it was agreed that he would be Deputy Mayor for three years, during the terms of Cllrs. Lawlor, Kehoe and Dempsey.
And because the €500 Deputy Mayor's allowance that had been paid previously, was no longer available under the new local government arrangements, they didn't want Cllr. Staples to be out of pocket and agreed that they would each give him a conribution towards expenses.
Cllr. Lawlor said it was agreed that each of the three Mayors would 'give him a few bob'.They agreed to make a contribution of €400 to Cllr. Staples from their mayoral allowances, amounting to a total of €1,200 over the three years.
Cllr. Lawlor said he gave Cllr. Staples €400 in cash, in one transaction as he recalled, and this money was returned to him by Cllr. Staples after Cllr. Kehoe died and Cllr. Staples became Mayor.
Responding to claims that a larger sum of money was paid, Cllr. Lawlor said the figure of €1,200 that has been mentioned may have come from the fact that there were to be three payments of €400.
'Why would we have been giving him any more if the deputy mayor's allowance had been €500', he asked.
'I was the first to give it and it was only €400, to cover out-of-pocket expenses.'
'There are some who would seek to make political capital out of it. Any suggestion of wrong-doing is totally wrong and indeed libellous', he said.
Cllr. Lawlor said he has received 'a huge amount of support' from people -people who know that I have worked religously for 15 years as a councillor with a completely unblemished record and reputation.'
The Deputy Mayor does not receive an allowance and cannot claim expenses.
In relation to mayoral pacts, Cllr. Lawlor said such pacts have existed in Wexford for 35 years and one of the current critics, Cllr. David Hynes was elected Mayor twice in a pact while he was a member of the Labour Party.
'It would be very rare for councillors to go into a mayoral election, not knowing who they are going to support', he said.
'A pact is a normal arrangement that happens. Sinn Fein are involved in pacts up and down the country,including Dublin where they were involved in a mayoral pact for five years and got two mayoral terms out of it'.
Cllr. Lawlor said the Labour Party has only two seats on Wexford District Council and does not have a monopoly of power on the local authority. It was open to the other five to have their own pact.
Independent councillor Ger Carthy who was elected as first chairman of the new Rosslare Municipal District last Wednesday, became Mayor of Wexford in 2015/16 following Cllr. Lawlor's term of office.
When contacted this week he said: 'I didn't pay anything to anyone. My conscience is clear. Jim Moore was my deputy and I was his deputy. There was no issue and there was no payment. I supported him and he supported me and it worked very well.'
Cllr. Forde said he just wanted clarity on the whole situation. 'I still believe that informal arrangements regarding financial payments should not exist. Everything should be above board and in the public domain.'
'I'm happy that I brought this to the attention of the public and the public can make up their own minds on it. There are still some questions. Any pact or other agreement between councillors should be made public. If there is no mechanism for a payment to a Deputy Mayor, then it shouldn't be paid'
Former councillor Deirdre Wadding who was a member of the Council in 2014 but was not involved in the mayoral pact, criticised the arrangement in an online post, saying it cast a shadow over the local authority.