THE COUNCIL has suspended its draft local development consultation, with immediate effect, after it emerged a section intended to strongly oppose local fracking had been changed without councillors’ knowledge or consent.
Enquiries are currently underway as to how the careful wording that had previously been agreed unanimously by the elected representatives was changed in the strategy document, which had been out for public consultation.
Instead of stating the Council opposed fracking unless it was proven it did not cause any adverse effects on the environment or public health, the wording that appeared stated the Council opposed fracking until there was “evidence on all associated impacts on the environment and human health.”
Cllr Siobhan Currie raised the matter at the September Council meeting last week, stating the wording change was “a serious discrepancy” and did not reflect the agreed Council position.
“We feel this has raised concerns about confidence, not just amongst councillors, but for the general public as well,” she said.
Cllr Currie’s request for the consultation to be paused and a special meeting held on the matter was widely supported by her fellow councillors.
Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh agreed public confidence in the Council had been shaken. He asked who had changed the wording and how it happened, and stated “the whole process has been conducted in such a way that I think lends itself to the public asking genuine questions.”
Cllrs Anthony Feely and Adam Gannon pointed to the strong public opposition to fracking that was shown by the community in Belcoo and the wider area in recent years, stating there should be no ambiguity when it comes to fracking.
Cllr John Coyle said the incident had weakened the Council’s position on the issue, while Cllr Sheamus Greene said “councillors are getting accused of taking brown envelopes and all sorts of things” on social media, stating confidence had been “completely undermined.”
“I can’t emphasise how serious this is,” he said.
Chief executive Alison McCullagh said while what the councillors agreed had been clear, the minutes recorded had been more vague, which may have led to the change in wording. She said enquiries were underway into how it happened.