Despite the best of intentions, political allegiances reared their heads in style at this week’s meeting of Westmeath County Council.
Welcoming new councillor Avril Whitney (FF ) at the start of the meeting, members were eager to assure her that they tend not to let politics interfere with their work.
“We try to keep politics outside the chamber,” said Cllr Mick Dollard (Lab ), while Cllr Frank McDermott (FG ) assured her of “the height of cooperation” from his party.
However, just a few short hours later, as the meeting was drawing to a close, the chamber descended into chaos as councillors traded attacks on the political parties’ respective TDs.
Cllr Colm Arthur (FG ) kicked off the disagreement by criticising Fianna Fáil’s Deputy Robert Troy for “having a go” at Deputy Nicky McFadden over the children’s hospital.
“I notice that a local deputy had a go at Deputy McFadden and accused her of flying kites [by her calling for the National Children’s Hospital to be located in Mullingar]. If a Westmeath TD brings forward an issue they should have the support of the other TDs. It’s unfair of another TD to run down an idea,” he said.
Cllr Paddy Hill (FF ) quickly stepped in to justify Deputy Troy’s remarks.
“I think you’ve misinterpreted Deputy Troy; he will give the hospital his full support if it comes to Mullingar but I wouldn’t bet too much on it - just as he gave his full support to the retention of the barracks. Perhaps the Athlone deputy should concentrate on holding the barracks in Athlone,” he suggested.
This prompted Cllr Gabrielle McFadden to come to her sister’s defence.
“Deputy McFadden is very supportive of the barracks in Athlone and is working very hard on it; we shouldn’t be playing politics with the barracks the same way as was done with the hospital,” she said.
When Cllr Mick Dollard suggested that with plans to reduce the number of military brigades in the country “the axe is over several barracks”, Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran (Ind ) rowed in with his own accusation.
“Mick Dollard, you said people were scaremongering over the closure of Mullingar barracks, and it happened,” he said.
Cathaoirleach Mark Cooney eventually had to take the rare step of ringing the bell to call the meeting to order.
However the meeting ended on a united note when councillors of all political persuasions called for a yes vote in the upcoming referendum.
“I’m assured we are the only council unanimously supporting the yes vote,” noted Cllr Frank McDermott.