In a move which will shock local politics, Waterford City Councillor John Halligan has quit The Workers Party.
He made the announcement on Tuesday, saying he was doing so because demands from party headquarters had made his position untenable.
The problem centres on the City Council financial estimates and his party’s demand that he continues to oppose them on account of the inclusion of so-called service charges.
But Cllr. Halligan, who now becomes the Council’s fourth Independent member and denies he is about to join Labour, takes the view that such a stance has become unsustainable.
As a compromise last December he and party colleague Davy Walsh abstained when it came to the vote on the estimates, which were supported by all of the other councillors, including Sinn Fein’s two representatives who had previously opposed them. Significantly, as it has now transpired, an obviously uncomfortable Cllr. Halligan was the only member not to contribute to the debate on the night.
Announcing his resignation from the party, Cllr. Halligan said he was doing so with a deep sense of sadness and only after much reflection. And he explained: “Over the past number of years myself and a number of local party members have endeavoured to initiate a realistic and pragmatic internal debate regarding the party’s position in relation to the City Council’s budget.
“It was my view that our continued opposition year after year to the passing of the estimates was unsustainable and was no more than an unjustifiable gesture. It contradicted our efforts to have included funding for forward-looking proposals which would enhance our city and benefit its people.
“This contradiction was brought sharply into focus last December when, if we were to follow through on the practice of previous years, we would have voted against a number of items for which we had sought finance. Those included issues we had championed including the continued employment of an Anti Social Behaviour Officer, with back-up clerical staff”.
Cllr. Halligan said that on account of such matters it was the wish of the majority of the party membership in Waterford that the estimates for this year should be supported. And he felt it would be hypocritical not to do so.
‘Perpetuating a hypocrisy’
However, the party’s national management committee did not support that view and insisted on the two WP councillors voting against. Then, following meetings between members of the local executive committee and representatives of the national committee, the compromise was reached whereby the two councillors would abstain. Cllr. Halligan said he agreed but only reluctantly because he felt it was just perpetuating a hypocrisy.
He said that following the vote on the estimates he and a senior member of the Waterford Executive were brought before the party general secretary and two members of the Ard Comhairle. They were told that by not voting against the estimates they had broken the party rules and such conduct would not be tolerated.
Subsequently, on February 11, he received by registered post a letter from head office requesting that he resigned from the City Council and hand his seat over to another party member of their choosing. However, he is refusing to do that and having resigned his party membership he intends staying on as an Independent member of the Council “representing my constituents and the city as a whole”.
Cllr. Halligan, who has been bravely outspoken on law and order issues in particular, was first elected to the City Council in 1999 and topped the poll in Ward 3 when he retained his seat five years later. He has twice stood unsuccessfully for the Dail.
By way of further explanation for his resignation he said he could not toe the party line against what his conscience told him. “I’m a free thinker and would have required some leeway from party headquarters to do what I felt was right for my constituents and for the people of Waterford”, he said. “I’ve found the party top brass to be too intransigent”.
He is a Council representative on HSE South and is also a member and former chairman of the Environmental SPC.
Reacting to the news of his colleague’s departure, Davy Walsh, now the only public representative of a party which nationwide in its heyday had 60 councillors, 7 TDs and an MEP, said he was saddened by the development but the party would survive and he was confident it would regain Cllr. Halligan’s seat at the 2009 local elections.
He said it was opposed to service charges which were the thin end of the wedge, as evidenced by the fact that schools were now being asked to pay for their water supply. He had always opposed service charges through his 29 years on the Council and only agreed to abstain at the December budget vote in the interests of unity between himself and Cllr. Halligan. But the latter had persisted in defying the party line on the matter and discipline had to be maintained – the only place to alter party policy was at the Ard Fheis and individuals embarking on solo runs could not be tolerated.
He said he had paid a personal price for his persistent opposition to service charges – it had cost him the Mayoralty – but he consistently acted in Waterford’s interests as he saw them.
Nevertheless, he always regarded Cllr. Halligan as a friend and would continue to do so – as far as he was concerned there would be no animosity between them.
Workers’ Party asks Halligan for his seat