Big Parties Continue To Take Mayoral Roles

At least for this year, the big parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are continuing to take the Mayoral roles.  In Co. Roscommon, Fianna Fail was lucky to win the Mayor and Deputy role, albeit after being pulled out of a box.  Fine Gael/Labour has had control of Westmeath County Council since 2004, and this year again managed to win the two positions.  A bonus for Fine Gael happened when they also won the two roles in Athlone Town Council.               

Nicky McFadden TD

Nicky McFadden TD

Gab

Lucinda Creighton TD and Mayor Gabrielle McFadden (FG)

Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden, sister of Nicky McFadden TD became Athlone Town Mayor, the last as it will turn out to be, because of the going of the town councils from next years’ local elections.  Fine Gael also took the Deputy role with Cllr. Mark Cooney. (son of former Minister Patrick Cooney)  In Athlone the councillors managed to hold their alliance since 2009, with Fine Gael, Labour and an Independent councillor tightly agreeing to their Mayoral agreement.

The Roscommon alliance has been all over the place since a Fianna Fail/Independent/Sinn Fein alliance took over their council in 2009.  It fell apart the following year, when two Hospital Action Group councillors put a plan in place to break the alliance.  They convinced some of the Independent councillors and the Sinn Fein member to vote against Fianna Fail, therefore creating a Fine Gael alliance of sorts.  Independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan became Mayor then, and went on to a Dail win afterwards.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan

After the General Election, Fine Gael came to power, and the closing of the Accident and Emergency unit in Roscommon happened.  Therefore the new council alliance broke down, with everyone deserting Fine Gael.

Orla

Roscommon Deputy Mayor, Cllr. Orla Leyden

Connaughtons

Mayor Martin Connaughton and his son Ivan, with Mary O’Rourke.

Fianna Fail won the double in Roscommon this summer, albeit out of a cardboard box.  Cllr. Martin Connaughton’s (father of Dail candidate Ivan Connaughton) vote was split 13-13 with an Independent councillor, but he was chosen out of the box, and won the chain.  The same happened to Cllr. Orla Leyden, (daughter of Senator Terry Leyden) who became Deputy Mayor.

In Westmeath, Cllr. Peter Burke (a Dail candidate twice before) of Fine Gael took the chain, because of the FG/Lab alliance, and Labour’s Cllr. Denis Leonard took the Vice Chair role.

With all that’s happening with next year’s local elections, a lot less councillors will be coming back, so many of them have to get over the difficult battle of winning back their seats, in much bigger territories than before, and that is all that is in their sights currently.

South Westmeath Lose Half Its Politicians

In a new shake up of the electoral boundaries, approximately half the councillors will lose their seats in South Westmeath, and just seven councillors will be allowed to sit in the new ‘Athlone Electoral Area’, which makes up areas from Athlone west urban to Mount Temple, Ardnagrath, Ballymore and Streamstown.

There will be a reduction of as many as 678 council seats for next years local election, and this will bring many changes, including an end to councillors doubling up on town and county councils.  There are currently nine councillors on Athlone Town Council, and six on the Athlone electoral area of Westmeath County Council.  Three councillors double up on both councils, so this makes the sum of 12 councillors in Athlone.  However there is also four councillors in the Kilbeggan electoral area, and approximately one of those can now be calculated to be part of the new electoral boundary.

On Athlone Town Council, there are 3 FG, 2 FF, 2 Independents, 1 Sinn Fein, and 1 Labour member.  Included in that on Westmeath County Council are 2 FF and 1 FG.  The Kilbeggan additions can be counted as 1 FG.  One of the Independent councillors was elected for Fianna Fail in 2009, but left before the 2011 General Election.

Approximate current figures are: 5 FG, 4 FF, 2 Ind, 1 SF and 1 Labour.  Obviously that won’t continue, and almost half that number will lose their seats in May 2014. 

It’s difficult enough to say how the FF vote will disperse with one of their former members now being Independent, but at a glance you can say for the seven seats there will be 1 FF, 1 FG, 1 SF and 1 Ind and three others

However my prediction is the other three will be 2 FF and 1 FG, but that is as of June 2013.  A lot will happen in the coming eleven months, and things will become clearer when the different parties and groups start to hold conventions and pick their candidates to run.

Political Cabaret in the Midlands

John McNamara (Direct Democracy), Minister Lucinda Creighton, Mary O'Rourke, Ernie Draper (People's Voice)
John McNamara (political activist), Minister Lucinda Creighton, Mary O’Rourke, Ernie Draper (political activist)

A ‘political cabaret’ took place in Athlone last week featuring music and a banter on European citizenship from Minister Lucinda Creighton and former Minister, Mary O’Rourke.

Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan

The political roadshow is called ‘Leviathan’ and is a unique entertainment session, with political discussion on Europe.  It was created by Mr. Naoise Nunn, who was present in the hall on the night. 

Included, along with Creighton and O’Rourke on the ‘Leviathan’ panel in the Dean Crowe Theatre were environmental consultant, Jack O’Sullivan and CEO of Irish Rural Link Seamus Boland, and a fifty plus audience made up of interested observers, politicians, ex-politicians, and hopeful politicians.

“Society has changed since we came into Europe, and my mother got married in 1973, the year that we joined the European Community, and she was a teacher, and if the law hadn’t changed for civil servants, she would have had to have given up work,” said Lucinda Creighton, Minister of State for Europe.

Minister Lucinda Creighton, Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden (FG) and Austin Berry, former Mayor of Athlone
Minister Lucinda Creighton, Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden (FG) and Austin Berry, former Mayor of Athlone

Mary O’Rourke praised the benefits to Irish education from Europe, and particularly cited the Erasmus scheme and Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS).

“You would all know people whose son, or daughter has gone to study in European cities, to continue studies, in this marvellous terrific programme for young people,” said the former Minister for Education.  “VTOS was wonderful for people, who have left school early, and they could go back to education, and that was an entirely European idea, a brilliant idea.”

However she also said there is a distance with Europe, “a distance of spirit and intention,” and suggested that a digest be printed about what Europe means to each citizen in Ireland.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan was in the audience and said that he was unhappy with the discussion going on in the theatre, and that he believed that it would be a debate on the future of Europe.

The Roscommon Independent TD said the people on the panel were clearly all very pro-Europe.

“How can you have a debate when you all agree with each other, and who is paying for this showcasing?” asked Ming.

“We didn’t get paid anyway,” said Mary O’Rourke.

“Someone has to pay the Dean Crowe Hall,” said Ming.

Minister Creighton said that Naoise Nunn sent in a proposal, following an advertisement about engaging Irish citizens.

“There is an idea here that we wouldn’t have moved forward if we didn’t join the EU, and that women would not have equal rights in this country if we didn’t join the EU, if so that is fault of TDs in our country,” said the Roscommon TD.  “Is it your conclusion that we needed someone to give us women’s rights, I am a Eurosceptic, but I believe in women’s rights, and we are spending state funding going around trying to convince people about Europe.  There are many people in this country who are not pro-Europe, when will we be funded to bring showcases around the country?”

Minister Creighton said that all Independents are given allowances paid by the taxpayers, and nothing was stopping anyone from submitting a proposal.

Minister Lucinda Creighton, Mary O'Rourke and Denis Rohan (Labour party activist)
Minister Lucinda Creighton, Mary O’Rourke and Denis Rohan (Labour party activist)

Local political activist John McNamara said that this year, 2013, is the European Year of the Citizen, and there is a disconnect with Europe.

“We are all asked to register for a septic tank, and yet there is pollution going into all our rivers, and the turfcutters are being screwed,” said Mr. McNamara.  “Don’t be afraid to fight, and make a difference.  Our own town council locked the door to the public.  The locked us out, that is democracy, what type of Europe is it?”

The chairman, Will Faulkner said that the council said that there were people who were disrupting the procedures.

“There is a soup kitchen 500m from here, and you are telling us we are disconnecting with Europe, but we have rewarded investors of Germany and France,” said Mr. McNamara.  “Is it right to cut carers allowances? If anyone really cared, they (politicians) would give up their allowances and work for the council for nothing.  My main gripe is big business gets away.”

‘People’s Voice’ locked out of Political Chamber

A group of protestors were locked out of Athlone Town Council, during the council’s April meeting.

The council meeting continued in progress while around 20 members of the ‘People’s Voice’ group remained outside the chamber.   Nobody, only politicians, council officials and press were allowed to attend the meeting.

Many issues were discussed inside, including the Gathering, and one of the special guest speakers on the night was Henry Healy – President Barack Obama’s Irish cousin.  However the public gallery remained empty while the protestors were kept outside.

At the March meeting, around two dozen protestors were in the public gallery, and a dramatic night of verbally challenging the politicians took place, from the gallery.

As reported last month on irishsmokefill.com, none of the politicians were spared attack from the protestors and they equally levelled their vocal anger at Fine Gael, Labour, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Independent members of the council.

However this protest was much different, and much quieter.

irishsmokefill left the April meeting around 8pm, two hours after it began, and the silence of the protest was deafening.  A quiet night was had by all, and the public gallery remained closed.

Roscommon Council Calls For Stay on Wind Farms

Following a motion from the Roscommon Mayor at the March meeting, the county council called on the Dept. of Environment to put a stay on all Bord Pleanala Wind Farm decisions, until new Wind Energy guidelines are published.  They also requested that the new guidelines be made retrospective where wind farm developments have not yet commenced.

Mayor Tom Crosby said he was informed that the guidelines would be published during the current year, and he believed Co. Roscommon was out of “kilt” with distances and relative heights.

Cllr. Tony Ward (Ind) from Curraghboy seconded the windfarm motion and said it is coming at an appropriate time.

“It’s a major issue when you have wind turbines around one hundred and thirty metres height, and it is totally inappropriate to have wind turbines within dwelling houses,” he said. “I would hope that the new guidelines come out soon.”

Tulsk based Cllr. Sean Beirne, who leads the Fine Gael side of Roscommon County Council supported the motion, and said he didn’t think Co. Roscommon was suitable for wind turbines, and that there is major tourism potential at both ends of the county.

However Fianna Fail’s Cllr. John Keogh from Monksland said he couldn’t support the motion, while he accepted the Mayor put it forward with the best of intentions.  He was supported by his party colleague, Cllr. Eugene Murphy.

“I don’t see how it would be possible, because An Bord Pleanala is an independent body,” said Cllr. Keogh.

“The final word is left with the Minister,” said Mayor Crosby.

Meanwhile during the meeting, Fine Gael’s Cllr. John Naughten, welcomed the new draft revised policy document for the taking in charge of housing developments.

“As a member of the planning Strategic Policy Committee, I welcome this policy document, because the council is now formally in a position to address issues such as pumping stations not working, and lighting issues,” said the Drum based councillor.

Protesters Drive Local Politicians From Their Chamber

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.

Fianna Fail on Renewal Journey in Westmeath

Cllr. Frankie Keena, Cllr. Aengus O'Rourke, Michael O'Brien (Athlone FF), Deputy Micheal Martin (FF Leader) and Deputy Robert Troy
Cllr. Frankie Keena, Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke, Michael O’Brien (Athlone FF), Deputy Micheal Martin (FF Leader) and Deputy Robert Troy

The Fianna Fail party leader did an impromptu door calling in the midlands on Valentines night which gave him a chance to see how the party land lay.

“We are on a renewal journey and it’s going to take us time to regain the trust of the people, and I’m knocking on doors tonight, and I’ve been in Kinnegad, Rochfortbridge, Kilbeggan and now I’m in Athlone, and I’m going to a function tonight in honour of Cllr. Kieran Molloy,” said Micheal Martin, to irishsmokefill.  “We are connecting and listening to people, about the experiences they are having in this recession, and the difficulties they are having to make ends meet.”

The Fianna Fail president said that property tax looms large on people’s mind and they are very worried and very anxious about it.

“How can somebody on welfare pay a property tax, and many people paid stamp duty, and that was their property tax,” said Deputy Martin.

He said Fianna Fail put an alternative before Christmas, that anyone with income over €100,000 could have an increase on their USC charge and that would bring in some revenue.  He said they also proposed changes in taxation relief on some pensions.

“We didn’t fudge it, and what people are saying to us, is they can manage an increase of a fiver or a tenner, but to get a hit of €300, that’s a step too far for people,” said the FF leader.

He said he was happy with the work of his two local councillors, Aengus O’Rourke and Frankie Keena, and the party’s own TD in Longford/Westmeath, Robert Troy, who is based in Mullingar.

Athlone doesn’t have a Fianna Fail TD since Mary O’Rourke lost her seat in 2011.  It seems like the fight has begun to change that fact, with Cllrs O’Rourke and Keena being the contenders.   However whoever the candidate is, will have their work cut out for them, with the rise of a Sinn Fein candidate, Cllr. Paul Hogan in the town, and the strong presence of Fine Gael, and their TD, Nicky McFadden.  Deputy McFadden is going through an illness, but is aided in her constituency work by her sister, Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden and by Cllr. Mark Cooney (son of former Minister, Paddy Cooney).  Also Robert Troy has managed to have kept up a presence in Athlone over the past two years, despite his Mullingar base. Former Fianna Fail member, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, who got 3,700 first preference votes as a Independent in the last General Election hasn’t gone away either.

Deputy Martin appeared in the midlands a few days after the party got the 26% rating in a poll, and on the eve of them getting 27% in another.

“I take opinion polls with a grain of salt, and they are going to be up and down, but the trend is in the right direction,” he said to irishsmokefill.  “There is a new spirit in the party, and we have to understand where people are at in their life, and it’s a worrying time for a lot of people, with unemployment, emigration and mortgage arrears.”

‘Voice of the People’ Heard in Athlone

JOHN MCNAMARA, member of new political party, 'Voice of the Party'.
JOHN MCNAMARA, member of new political party, ‘Voice of the People’.

Ireland’s newest political party had its beginnings this week, at a gathering at the Shamrock Lodge Hotel, Athlone.  The party, ‘Voice of the People’ has begun from the grassroots of the Athlone Anti-Household Charge committee.  The committee which was formed around a year ago has now made the move into politics, and plans to contest elections in Westmeath, Longford and South Roscommon.

The PRO of the new party is John McNamara, who was the Chairman of Longford/Westmeath Sinn Fein before being expelled from the party early in January.  It is not clear why he was expelled, but he has had very high profile appearances in the media over the past eighteen months.  He is also an engineer and a former army officer.

Among the other active members of the new party are Gordon Hudson, founder of the Athlone Anti-Household charge committee, and his wife, Geraldine Hudson.  The current Chairman of the new party is Peadar Doyle, and Treasurer is Ann Heneghan, both of whom are veteran members of the original committee.  A new member, Ernie Draper was chosen on the night as the party’s secretary.

“We need to get up and visit council chambers and listen to people’s ideas, and what I would suggest is if this will be a party, is that we all have to be full members and listen to each other,” said Mr. McNamara.

The small group of less than twenty members chose and voted for the name ‘Voice of the People’ (which was suggested by Gordon Hudson) against some other names.

Mayor of Athlone, Jim Henson was a surprise attendee at the gathering, but he said that he was there merely to wish the new group good wishes, and that he intended to remain in the Labour party.

“I’m here because I respect people at the top table, and Gordon, and politics is born from anger and community development, and I want to wish ye the very best of luck,” said Mayor Henson.  “It’s no harm, and the more parties that are borne the better, and it’s better for democracy, and it’s easy to say things are wrong.  Everybody can see what’s wrong, and everybody’s looking for answers.  I never missed a public meeting belonging to any party, because the day you stop learning, is the day you stay in bed, so anything for local democracy I will support.”

Roscommon Councillors Defer Abortion Decision

Members of Roscommon County Council will wait until the government’s legislation on abortion is published before they will consider asking for a referendum. Fianna Fail’s Cllr. Paddy Kilduff had brought up a motion calling for a referendum, during the January meeting, and it was seconded by his party colleague, Cllr. John Keogh.
However despite the general agreement throughout the council on an abortion referendum, there was also a view from some members on allowing abortion legislation to go through.
Independent Cllr. John Murphy, (who replaced Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan, when he left the council for the Dail) said that the question has been given to the people several times.
“We shouldn’t be looking for a referendum,” said Cllr. Murphy.
“I’m not in favour of abortion, and you might get a referendum, but you mightn’t get the result you are looking for,” said Independent Cllr. Laurence Fallon speaking directly to Cllr. Kilduff. “The opinion polls are saying that 60% are in favour of abortion legislation.”
Cllr. Fallon was a Fine Gael member who left the party in 2011, after the closing of Roscommon’s accident and emergency unit.
Hospital Action Group councillor, Valerie Byrne said there is plenty of talk about the people for abortion, and for those against, but there is little talk about the “people in the middle,”
“It should go to the people,” said Cllr. Byrne.
Her colleague, and sister, Cllr. Paula McNamara said that she was “against abortion,” and supported the motion.
Fine Gael’s Cllr. Sean Beirne said he was told the legislation will be about the most limited form of abortion, and just “strictly cover the x case,”
The Sinn Fein member, Cllr. Michael Mulligan said he was anti abortion, and that he would support the motion, but would like to see the wording first.
Cllr. Kilduff was convinced by many of the members including Mayor Tom Crosby to wait and see what the legislation wording was. The Mayor said that it would then be put back on the agenda for consideration by the council.
“I would then like it to go back to the people,” said Cllr. Kilduff.

Art Goes Back to the ‘Drawing’ Board

The Luan Gallery with Athlone Castle and St. Peter's and Paul's Church In the background
The Luan Gallery with Athlone Castle and St. Peter’s and Paul’s Church In the background

A council motion calling for the removal of an installation at an art gallery will go back to the gallery’s Board of Directors for their perusal.

The most bizarre Athlone Town council meeting in living memory heard Cllr. Mark Cooney put up a motion for discussion requesting that the exhibit entitled “Fragmens sur le Institutions Republicaines IV” be removed from Athlone town’s Luan Gallery.  Cooney, son of former Minister for Justice, Paddy Cooney said the installation is offensive to many people.  The installation at the Luan Gallery in Athlone consists of many black and white text panels, created by artist, Shane Cullen from the smuggled messages of the 1981 Maze hunger strikers prisoners.  The work is positioned along the main wall of the Shannonside gallery.

The story has been watched over by the national media since the day the gallery opened last November, because former Minister Paddy Cooney objected on the day to the H-Block depictions.  Indeed Fine Gael’s Cllr. Cooney admitted during the January council meeting, that his father was “quite agitated,” on the day.

“I would certainly agree it is art, and it has merit, but the difficulty is in what is written there in black and white,” said the Fine Gael councillor.  “We have to consider the families of those who were murdered, and you don’t have to look too far, because there were some families in Athlone and Moate.  We all know the awful circumstances into how Pte. Paddy Kelly’s death came about.  There are many copious references there to prison officers referred to as screws and bastards.  What are we saying to the police service, the army and the Defence Forces with this.”

David Kelly, son of Pte. Paddy Kelly was in the gallery, alongside members of many groupings like Sinn Fein, the artistic community from South Westmeath and ex-Defence Forces personnel, among others.  Local Sinn Fein member, John McNamara talked loudly into a megaphone outside the Athlone Civic Centre meeting venue.  Two audience members had anti-politician banners, and there was much clapping, and heckling from the public gallery, leading to Mayor Jim Henson (Lab) cautioning the public gallery members a number of times.

Sinn Fein’s Cllr. Paul Hogan welcomed the artist, Shane Cullen into the meeting, before calling Cooney’s motion, a “censorship motion,”.

“Shane Cullen as an artist has a constitutional right to express himself, in his art, through his artistic endeavour, in any way that he sees fit,” said Cllr. Hogan.  “To me this is a preposterous motion, and a very clear message needs to be sent out of this council.  Art is there to be provocative, it is there to be controversial, it’s not just about pretty pictures on a wall.  It should be about open emotion, to draw conclusions from.  But where we fall down as councillors is if we take the right off people to let them go in and view it themselves, we are censoring them and we are limiting them.”

Independent, Cllr. Sheila Buckley-Byrne, who is also on the board of directors of the Luan Gallery proposed a counter-motion to the Cooney motion, by asking that the councillors refrain from making a decision on the Cullen installation.  She proposed that the motion be referred to the Luan Gallery board of directors, for consideration at their next meeting, on January 15th.  The majority of councillors agreed with the Buckley-Byrne counter-motion in the expectation that the board’s judgement will come back before the next monthly council meeting, which could be on February 4th.

The counter-motion was seconded by Mayor Henson and agreed with by Fianna Fail’s Cllr. Aengus O’Rourke and Cllr, Kieran Molloy, and Independent, Cllr. Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran, and surprisingly Fine Gael’s Cllr. Alan Shaw broke with his party colleagues on the issue to also support the counter-motion.  It was unprecedented to see Cllr. Cooney and his party colleague Cllr. Gabrielle McFadden and Cllr. Hogan all on the one side – voting against the proposal!  The 6-3 council vote carried the counter motion.

Mayor Henson is Chairman of the Luan Board of Directors, and Cllr. Moran is a board member alongside Cllr. Buckley-Byrne.