Donegal County Council requested a Garda presence at County House on Monday to coincide with a planned public protest outside of the July county council meeting.
As many as 90 protesters from the Donegal Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign protested outside County House on Monday as councillors held their regular July meeting inside. Gardaí stood at the front door of County House and three Garda patrol cars were in attendance during the protest.
A protest by members of the same group in December resulted in the council budget meeting being disrupted, after dozens of protesters entered the public meeting and loudly voiced their opposition to the government’s household charges.
“We had been informed that the Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay group proposed to protest outside the council meeting on Monday last,” said Liam Ward, council director of housing and corporate services, responding to a query from the Democrat. “We were conscious at a previous protest during the budget meeting in December 2011 that the group had come into the meeting and disrupted the meeting, and the meeting had to be delayed for a period of time, and we were anxious to avoid that happening again.
“We had asked the gardaí to have a presence in the vicinity of the County House building during the period in which the protest was ongoing,” Mr. Ward said. He said protesters absolutely had a right to enter the building and the public council meeting.
“They weren’t kept outside, but we did not want a repeat of what happened at the budget meeting in December 2011,” Mr. Ward said.
However, Michéal Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig, a Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay spokesperson who took part in Monday’s protest, said that while gardaí did not approach the protesters, the garda presence was not welcoming.
“It was very clear that any of the protesters who felt they wanted to go into the building, that there wasn’t a welcome,” he said. “When you have four or five gardaí who were perceived to be blocking the entrance of a public building, it certainly isn’t something that is very welcoming.
“I would condemn it outright, as the people of this county have a right to protest and a right to protest without being policed,” Mr. MacGiolla Easbuig said. “Is it the case now that the Fine Gael and Labour politicians in this county believe in political policing?”
He said he believed a number of protesters had wanted to go into the meeting, but said that they decided as a group not to enter, “because we felt that because there were a good number of gardaí there it would cause confrontation and I didn’t want that.
Read more in today’s Donegal Democrat.