FINE Gael may cross the floor in search of support from Labour, Fianna Fail and independent councillors if the deal under which Pat Kennedy is due to become Mayor of Limerick next week falls apart.
Cllr Kennedy’s controversial mileage claims dominated a meeting on the mayoralty attended by the eight Fine Gael members of Limerick City Council last Friday and which lasted close to two hours.
Cllr Kennedy returned almost €1700 to City Hall for expenses - for five conferences attended in the spring of 2010 - claimed for a car that was off the road. He has always protested that he made a “genuine and honest mistake”, a defence accepted in a report on the matter conducted by former city manager Tom Mackey and Mayor Jim Long.
And Cllr Kennedy last week said that Fine Gael had also cleared him following an internal investigation. According to party sources, these disciplinary proceedings examined not only the Limerick City Council expenses but also thousands of euros he subsequently refunded to other bodies - including over €2,800 to the Association of County and City Councils (ACCC).
Fine Gael has confirmed it will be taking no action against the veteran councillor but also said he had “damaged” the party, which was “mystified by Cllr Kennedy’s approach when given the opportunity to correct” the mileage claims.
It is understood that last Friday’s meeting grew heated at times with Cllr Kennedy having been accused of misleading Mayor Long by not revealing details of the expenses claimed from the ACCC.
He was also pressed by colleagues to produce the letter from Fine Gael headquarters which he contends puts him in the clear to become Mayor of Limerick for a third time on June 25.
One councillor who attended the meeting summed it up as follows:
“There are still a number of questions in relation to all of this that we would like answers on. He needs to give a full and frank account of all of these payments. He remains the party candidate but Fine Gael will be having further meetings before the mayoral election.”
Party leader on Limerick City Council, Cllr Diarmuid Scully, said he could not go into details of Friday’s meeting.
“We have had the meeting and a number of issues were discussed but I’m not in a position to make a comment,” he said.
Councillors had not received a copy of the letter from general secretary Tom Curran to Cllr Kennedy, he added.
Cllr Scully last week called upon Cllr Kennedy to make a public statement clarifying all of the payments.
If his colleagues fail to support Cllr Kennedy, that could leave a bloc of seven Fine Gael councillors seeking the support of two members on the other side of the Chamber to agree a mayoral deal for the next two years.
Sources said approaches could possibly be made in the coming days to Labour’s four councillors, independents Kathleen Leddin, John Gilligan and Kevin Kiely and Fianna Fail’s Kieran O’Hanlon.