Minister for the Environment and Local Government Phll Hogan’s attempt to avoid a crowd staging a protest in Glenties yesterday was unsuccessful.
The turnout was relatively small but vocal – about 60 people in all - although organisers claim there were more than 100 in attendance when the Minister arrived and it became clear that he was going to use a side entrance to the Highlands Hotel, the protesters ran to confront him.
What followed was a bit of rough and tumble, as around 20 protesters charged a garda barrier between them and the Minister.
A small number, including Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay campaign founder Michael Mac Giolla Easbuig and Irish language activist Donal Barr, appeared to breach the garda line and tried to pursue the Minister into the hotel. Main organiser Micheal Cholm MacGiolla Easbuig says they were given permission to go beyond the garda barrier to “calm the situation”.
Meeting the press before giving his address, Minister Hogan pledged to deliver “radical reform” of local government. He would not be drawn on the specifics of which local authorities are set to be abolished but simply said: “The number of local authorities is too many: the number will be reduced and the number of councillors will be reduced.”
He said that he had no problem with peaceful protests but warned that the household charges are “the law of the land” and that “they must comply”.
Challenged as to why he had not used the front entrance to the hotel, he responded: “I will choose which door I use.”
When asked what he would say to the 52% of Donegal householders who are liable but have not yet paid the household charge, he warned: “Those not paying will be responsible for cuts in services if they don’t pay between now and the end of the year.” In his address he said much reform had been mooted over the last decade, but very little actually implemented, and the time had come for action.
He promised to deliver “the most radical changes ever undertaken” in reforming local government this September, through a programme called ‘Putting People First’.
The programme will “introduce significant changes to regional, county, city and town governance” by ensuring that, wherever possible, local services are delivered through locally based bodies rather than central agencies.