This month’s Athlone Town Council meeting saw the public gallery locked and no members of the public allowed in as protesters from Athlone’s newest political party the People’s Voice returned to make their presence felt.
Mayor of Athlone, Jim Henson, made the decision to close the public gallery to avoid any disruptions to the April meeting. Protesters could be heard singing and chanting outside during the three hour meeting.
At the end of the meeting Cllr Paul Hogan asked why the mayor had decided to lock the gallery without consulting fellow members of the council. Town clerk, Hugh O’Reilly, said that the council is open to suggestions on how to deal with protesters, adding that any genuine members of the public are welcome to watch proceedings.
A Garda presence had been requested at the Civic Centre, and after the meeting four members of the People’s Voice waited for councillors and confronted the mayor about his decision to close the public gallery.
When asked by party member John McNamara why he decided to close the public gallery, Mayor Henson said that everyone does have a right to an opinion, but that includes councillors.
“What right do you have to shut down the gallery?” asked Mr McNamara.
“I have the right as a democratically elected member of the council,” said Mayor Henson.
Cllr Gabrielle McFadden was also approached as she left the meeting, and was asked her opinion on the matter.
“I’m disappointed that the gallery was locked, it should be open to the general public. But I wouldn’t want what happened last month to happen again. We have a right to a meeting as well,” she said.
Speaking to the Advertiser Mr McNamara said that the group had no intention of causing disruption to the council meeting. “We weren’t going to say one word, and if we’re in the public gallery next month we will be quiet,” he said.
“There really was no need for gardaí to be present, we’re not here to cause trouble,” he added.