Athlone Deputy Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, has voiced his utter displeasure at the igniting of a Halloween bonfire on a stretch of the enclosed Athlone canal which resulted in “scenes similar to that of a battleground” on Monday morning of this week.
Speaking to the Athlone Advertiser on Tuesday, Cllr O’Rourke, noted his continuing intention to make Athlone a “cleaner, tidier” town, but such acts were proving detrimental to the aspirations of many who are of a similar ideal.
“To have a town that is well presented takes everyone to play their part - whether you are a business owner, a school going child, or an older person, we all have a role to play.
“This past weekend I was inundated with complaints that children were stockpiling for bonfires particularly on the west side of Athlone. This didn’t surprise me, the stockpiling and stashing of pallets, tyres and material has been ongoing since early September and for the past two months Westmeath County Council has confiscated a huge amount of material, on a regular basis.
“However, what really disappointed me on Sunday last was the sight of adults supervising their children as they dragged old mattresses, suites of old furniture and household waste from their homes, so they could get rid of their now unwanted goods by burning them. Depressingly, the adults stood there like cheerleaders for their kids rather than responsible adults, and this went on just hours before the bonfire was lit.
“A break in the rain at the time gave them the opportunity they were looking for to unload their unwanted beds and furniture from their homes and yards. I watched from a distance and while I was shocked to view this reckless behaviour, there was little I could do as the bonfire was already lit.
“The fire in question was on the filled in section of the Athlone canal. This area is a public amenity, a park for children and families to enjoy and now it looks like the scene of a battleground.
“I visited the area again on Monday morning, there are shopping trolleys everywhere, suites of furniture, household waste, pallets and a lot more that didn’t make the fire, strewn across the green area and footpaths. The burned out remains of the fire, still shouldering on Monday morning, had the unsightly remains of mattresses, tyres and trolleys clearly visible,” Cllr O’Rourke stated
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The District Deputy Mayor is calling upon members of the local public to come forward with any relevant information with regard to households who used the bonfire to dump unwanted materials.
“I am calling on the public with any information regarding the households and individuals that were involved to report them to the Council. This behaviour is illegal and there needs to be consequences. If these households are council tenants we as a local authority should throw the book at them in my view.
“The canal area has been meticulously maintained in recent years by the canal scheme workers who can be seen daily conducting valuable work in the area. Their work maintains and improves the area for all of us. So, to have local residents wreck the area like they did this weekend is a huge insult to these workers, and to the people living in the area.
“I received scores of calls throughout Sunday last from local people outraged by the behaviour of these adults and their children. I advised the callers to phone the Gardai - after all it is against the law to dump in public areas. I am also disgusted at the businesses who conveniently left out pallets and tyres for the children to take so they could get rid of unwanted material themselves.
“We work very hard to improve things in our town on an ongoing basis. We spend a lot of money as a council to maintain the town’s cleanliness and not to mention all the amazing volunteers and Athlone Tidy Towns who give their time for this cause every week. So, it sickens me when local residents think it’s ok to destroy an area - their actions are nothing short of vandalism, firm and swift punishment is needed.
“The council will now have to clean up the area, the costs will be substantial and these residents should be made to pay.
“I once again implore members of the local public with any information to pass on the relevant details to Athlone Gardai or Westmeath County Council,” Cllr O’Rourke concluded.