Monday 16 September 2019

Protests inside county hall are banned after heated debate

By Esther Hayden

There was uproar in the council chamber last week after a pre-planned and sanctioned protest took place in the lobby of Wexford County Council.

The protest which was organised by the Right2Water group saw a small group of people protesting against domestic water charges inside county buildings.

Cllr Robbie Ireton said while he understood permission had been granted for the protest but said 'I would have major issues that such meetings or protest were allowed to happen in the council.

He said there was no problem with people voicing their concerns about Irish Water 'but are they afraid to do it on their own without a mob behind them?'

Cllr Malcolm Byrne said he believed in the right to protest but said he didn't believe it should be in county buildings as it 'disrupts people'.

County secretary Pat Collins said an agreement had been reached prior to the protest about its location and the maximum people allowed.

He said because of the width of the council doors it would be necessary to have the guards stopping people from entering other than that noting 'it's a very wide building'.

Cllr Michael Sheehan didn't see a problem with the protest. 'They were conducting themselves, what's the big deal?' while Cllr Deirdre Wadding who had been involved in the protest said 'it's a good thing for people to come in and express their feelings'.

Cllr Byrne said his fear was that it would 'set a precedent' adding that people attending the council 'had been disrupted and the staff are also entitled to go about their work'.

Cllr Larry O'Brien proposed that there should never be another protest within the building again and said all protests should take place outside.

Cllr Sheehan suggested referring the matter to the protocol committee saying Cllr O'Brien's proposal 'has a profound effect and needs to be thought out'.

Cllr Wadding said she 'had had a very civilised conversation with Pat (Collins) and he made it clear that up to 50 people could be accommodated. Had there been more the protest would have been outside. The place is massive so nobody was obstructed'.

Cllr John Hegarty said 'nobody is objecting to people coming into the council, however what we are talking about is an organised protest. If we had clearly laid out protocol it would be better.'

'I agree with anyone's right to protest', said Cllr Fergie Kehoe 'and I believe it was carried out correctly so I've no problem with it.'

Cllr Paddy Kavanagh said 'what we are trying to do is get some rules and regulations for other protests. Once you let a group inside and if you have to ask them to leave at 5pm or whatever and they refuse that's a problem. Protests shouldn't happen inside a building.

'We've all had to run the gauntlet of protests in the past but they've been outside.'

CEO of Wexford County Council Tom Enright said 'my duty of care is to the staff and customers. I don't think it's appropriate to protest inside the building itself. It's important to have some controls over what's happening.

'We have to ensure we have a welcoming environment and we need to be careful what type of message we are sending.'

Cllr Wadding said any protest has always been carried out with goodwill but she said if protests were banned inside the building the council will lose goodwill.

In the end the majority of members voted in favour of banning protests inside the building and referring the matter to the protocol committee to set up guidelines for any further protests within that framework.

Wexford People

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