Fermanagh and Omagh District Council is now offering hot meals to its councillors before Council meetings and Committee meetings – following a vote that was made in secret, The Impartial Reporter can reveal.

Councillors voted for hot meals for all its meetings ‘confidentially’ meaning no public record of who proposed the vote – or voted -- to have a choice of meals including chicken curry, quiche and chips, beef stew, peppered chicken and soup and sandwiches exists.

The Council declined to provide details when asked citing “personal information” in which “disclosure of the information would breach one or more of the data protection principles”. They even redacted key information when this newspaper requested details under Freedom of Information legislation.

However, The Impartial Reporter has now obtained details on who proposed the move, the names of some of the councillors availing of the free food and what they have eaten – all of which is being paid for by the ratepayer.

In January, councillors tucked into 10 chicken curries, and six beef stews before the Council meeting. During an Environmental Services meeting, two of them had soup and sandwiches while six had soup and sandwiches before a planning meeting later in the month.

In February, 10 councillors ate peppered chicken and six had beef stew before the council meeting and five had soup and sandwiches before Environmental Services. Before the Planning meeting, six had soup and sandwiches – but 13 tucked into a “hot buffet” before a “Special Council” meeting.

Asked which of the councillors has been eating the free food, a spokeswoman for the Council said: “Personal information is not provided in this response under Section 40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and in particular Section 40(3A), where disclosure of the information would breach one or more of the Data Protection principles.

“Consideration was given to the reasonable expectations of individuals, taking into account: their expectations both at the time the information was collected and at the time of the request; and the Data Protection principle of lawfulness, fairness, and transparency.”

But The Impartial Reporter has seen internal emails which list the names of some of the councillors and what they have eaten. In one email, councillors are sent the following message by a Council official: “Thank you for ordering food for the Council meeting tomorrow night. Food will be available in the Townhall canteen from 5.30pm. If you no longer require food, please let me know.” 

The councillors listed and the food they ordered are as follows:

Adam Gannon (SDLP) - Quiche, Chips and Salad

Ann-Marie Donnelly - Quiche, Chips and Salad

Thomas O’Reilly (Sinn Féin and Council Chairman) - Quiche, Chips and Salad

Pádraigin Kelly (Sinn Féin) - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Sheamus Greene (Sinn Féin) - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Marty McColgan (Sinn Féin) - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Allan Rainey (Ulster Unionists) - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Roisin Devine Gallagher - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Robert Irvine - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Eddie Roofe (Alliance) - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Errol Thompson (Democratic Unionists) - Lasagne, Chips and Salad

Another email, for March, shows how Thomas O’Reilly, Sheamus Greene, Elaine Brough (Sinn Féin), Diana Armstrong (Ulster Unionists), Shirley Hawkes (Democratic Unionists), Adam Gannon, Allan Rainey and Roy Crawford (Ulster Unionists) also ordered food.

We can reveal how back in November 2023, Sinn Féin Councillor Sheamus Greene voted that a report be brought to the December Council meeting detailing options available for hot food in advance of all Committee meetings for councillors.

“Redacted extracts”, provided to this newspaper by the Council, from minutes of a “Confidential Meeting” in December 2023 show how Chief Executive Alison McCullagh advised councillors that the costs of the hot food “would not be charged to members”.

The minutes state: “In response to a member’s query, the Chief Executive clarified that the matter was being discussed in Confidential Business in line with Schedule 6, Part 1, Paragraph 3 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014. A Member proposed that hot food be provided for members in advance of Council and Committee meetings.

“A member expressed the view that, given working hours and personal circumstances, some members arrived at meetings not having had a chance to eat anything substantial and he seconded the proposal.

The minutes detail how “members, while not objecting to hot food in advance of Council meetings, raised concern at the value for money of providing hot food before Committee meetings, given the smaller membership of these committees and the relatively low uptake of the offering to date before Council meetings”.

Information obtained by this newspaper show that it was Councillor Feeley’s proposal, seconded by Councillor Greene, that was put to a vote with 25 votes for, 11 against, with one abstaining.

On the proposal of Councillor Feeley, seconded by Councillor Greene, and by the majority of votes cast “that hot food be provided for Members in advance of Council and Committee meetings commencing in January 2024”.

The main course as per Council meeting is £10 per person while soup and sandwiches for committee meetings is £7.50 per person.

Food is pre-ordered in advance by councillors and not all councillors avail of the catering.

A Council spokeswoman explained how since its establishment in 2015, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council has provided catering for its members.

“At the December 2023 Council meeting it was agreed that hot food also be provided in advance of Committee meetings. In line with Schedule 6, Part 1, Paragraph 3 of the Local Government Act (Northern Ireland) 2014, the matter was considered in confidential business.”