Following a protest during the March meeting of Athlone Town Council, politicians abandoned their council chamber for a much smaller boardroom behind the chamber. Many of the household charge and austerity protesters are members of a new political group ‘The People’s Voice’.
None of the politicians were spared attack from the protesters, and they equally levelled their vocal anger at Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Independent members of the council.
A heavy garda presence was present in the Athlone Civic Centre before the meeting, because a protest had been expected, although nobody could have imagined what would come to pass. Usually there is nobody in the public gallery during council meetings, unless there is a planning decision or similar. A protest about removal of art from the public gallery in January led to a couple of comments from the gallery. However this was a much different meeting.
Around two dozen protesters gathered in the public gallery of the council, while the meeting was in progress and displayed many anti-austerity posters.
As soon as Fine Gael’s Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden began to deliver a comment on something from the council agenda, one woman shouted from the gallery, “Cllr. McFadden will you condemn the cuts to carers and the cuts in the Mobility Allowance,”
Mayor Jim Henson then said that he was postponing the meeting for five minutes, while the public gallery cleared. However the protesters in the gallery seemed to have no intention of leaving the gallery. The Mayor was asked if he was going to resign from the Labour party.
One of the leading protesters, John McNamara from the People’s Voice said loudly from the gallery – “The Banks Were Bailed out – Athlone Was Sold out”. He called on Independent, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and asked him if he was going to re-join Fianna Fail now that they had gone up in the polls.
Fianna Fail’s Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke came under attack from the protesters about his mother former Minister Mary O’Rourke’s pensions, and the fact that she has written a bestselling book.
The protestors called on the members to resign their council seats. There was general silence from the members, with the exception of Independent Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Sinn Fein’s Cllr. Paul Hogan, who answered back the protesters.
“We don’t shout at people, we talk to them,” said Boxer, to the gathering.
The politicians and the council officials gathered into a smaller boardroom behind the chamber and continued their meeting. The protestors went outside the Civic Centre and continued to chant slogans.