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Dublin councillors at odds over filling Anthony Flynn's seat amid ICHH controversy

A number of councillors want Flynn to be replaced on Monday, while others want the vote to be postponed.

File photo of an ICHH outreach support vehicle
File photo of an ICHH outreach support vehicle
Image: Sam Boal//RollingNews.ie

A SPLIT HAS emerged among councillors on Dublin City Council over the best approach to take when filling the seat held by the late councillor Anthony Flynn.

Filling the vacant seat is on the agenda at Monday’s monthly council meeting but some councillors have called for a vote on Flynn’s replacement to be postponed by at least a month.

Investigations are continuing into allegations of sexual assault against Anthony Flynn, the late founder of Inner City Helping Homeless (ICHH).

The 34-year-old north inner city councillor was found dead in tragic circumstances at his home in East Wall in August.

A number of independent councillors are set to put forward Geraldine Molloy, an ICHH volunteer, to fill the seat. It’s understood that Flynn’s family also supports the move.

However, a number of other councillors have expressed concern that the vote should be deferred until ICHH has been wound down and the various investigations into the charity have concluded.

An internal report for ICHH, released last month, detailed four serious allegations made against Flynn. Barrister Remy Farrell SC has been appointed to conduct a review of the controversy surrounding these allegations.

The Dublin Regional Homeless Executive (DRHE) did not fund ICHH but this week said it believed the charity should be wound down.

How is a council seat filled?

When a council seat becomes vacant, it’s generally straightforward to fill when the outgoing candidate belongs to a political party. For example – if a councillor from Fine Gael is elected to the Dáil or passes away, Fine Gael chooses another member of the party to fill the seat.

Things get slightly more complicated when it’s an independent seat. In this situation it would typically be up to the independents to propose a candidate, but they are split.

In some circumstances, an independent councillor may nominate their own replacement before they vacate the seat.

DCC’s standing orders state the following: “The vacancy shall be filled by a nominee selected by the former Councillor and notified to the Chief Executive’s Office to be held in confidence by that office.”

However, if the councillor did not nominate a replacement, as is the case here – “the filling of the vacancy shall fall to the full Council”.

Hypothetically every councillor present at Monday’s meeting could nominate someone to fill Flynn’s seat, though this is very unlikely to happen.

A number of council members pointed out that although independent councillors on DCC are generally left-leaning and share certain views, they don’t all see eye to eye. By their very nature, they are not part of a formal group.

Green councillor Janet Horner said there is a “lack of structure” when filling a seat previously held by an independent candidate.

“Ultimately they are not a political party and there is no such thing as an independent decision-making body. It’s different when a political party co-opt someone.”

Horner told The Journal she is “very wary of who goes into that seat” and DCC must ensure “a process is in place we can all stand over”.

“I’m not willing to endorse someone without a robust process in place,” she said.

‘This is absolutely wrong’

Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, wants the vote to be postponed until the investigations being carried out into ICHH are complete.

“On Monday there will probably be a postponement of the vote due to transparency issues,” he told The Journal.

Flynn questioned bringing in a candidate while live investigations are ongoing, adding: “There is more than a sense of unease [among some councillors], this is absolutely wrong.”

He said he doesn’t have an issue with Molloy personally, or the councillors who will propose her, but believes no one with links to ICHH should fill the seat at present.

Independent councillor Christy Burke, who stepped down as interim chair of ICHH last weekend, is set to propose Molloy to replace Flynn on the council. Attempts to contact Molloy and Burke on Friday were unsuccessful.

Nial Ring, another independent councillor, will support Molloy’s nomination.

“Geraldine is her own woman, she would be an excellent public representative. Geraldine is not being investigated,” Ring told The Journal.

He added: “No one would ever question any major political parties putting forward a candidate, we often wouldn’t even know their name beforehand. We should move forward and have the seat filled so the people of the north inner city are fully represented.”

The Workers’ Party has announced its intention to also put forward a candidate on Monday. Former WP councillor Éilis Ryan lost her council seat to Anthony Flynn by 46 votes in the 2019 local elections.

In a letter sent to Lord Mayor Alison Gilliland on Tuesday, the WP called for a “thorough and intensive” investigation into ICHH and also sought clarity on “the legal situation concerning the City Council seat of the late Cllr Anthony Flynn”.

The WP will propose a candidate at Monday’s meeting for co-option to the council “in accordance with what we are advised is best legal practice”, the statement noted.

Lack of diversity

Horner said the idea of filling a vacant council seat with the candidate or party who were “next in line” to receive a seat at the previous local election could be problematic.

“I would be reluctant to open that up, numerous people could make a claim for the seat. Belinda Nugent (Sinn Féin’s candidate) technically got more first preference votes than the WP candidate.

“If you’re going down a system of who was ‘next in line’, people could argue that first preference votes should be taken into account. The process needs to be stood over,” she said.

Horner has suggested an alternative plan to the Lord Mayor and group leaders on the council. There is “a major gap” in terms of the lack of diversity on DCC, she told The Journal.

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“About 40% of people in the north inner city are born outside Ireland, there should be someone from an immigrant background on the council.”

Horner said she is liasing with the Immigrant Council of Ireland who are mentioning a number of people who could be a good fit.

“It’s about improving migrant representation on the council in order to meet the needs of the community.”

She said the response to her suggestion by some colleagues has been mixed. “So far it’s mainly people telling me ‘I think it’s a good idea, but I don’t think anyone else will agree’.”

A spokesperson for DCC told The Journal the following about the process to fill the vacant seat: “If the vacancy is caused by the death of an elected member in normal circumstances the registered political party nominates a replacement.

“Cllr Flynn was an independent. Independents can leave an instruction on who should take their seat. In this circumstance, Cllr Flynn had not done so.

“The replacement procedure is therefore laid out in local government legislation and Dublin City Council Standing orders. The decision on a replacement is a decision for Council The replacement is a matter for Council.”

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Órla Ryan

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