Overwhelming protest from Athlone’s town councillors will see steel gates erected at the underpass at the Luan Gallery removed immediately.
This is despite concerns about anti-social behaviour in the area, where one councillor said he’d seen young people urinating, drug dealing, and smashing bottles against the gallery wall.
Kevin Boxer Moran said he’d even seen a mini car on the underpass, which had managed to make a donut turn there.
While permanent bollards installed in the last week should keep cars out, councillors say increased lighting and more CCTV should manage anti-social behaviour there.
Four members raised the issue on the agenda of this Tuesday’s June meeting of Athlone Town Council.
Cllr Kieran Molloy was unsatisfied with the council’s initial response that the gates had been erected as part of a suite of measures in a Garda recommendation to protect the €3m gallery, the costly art collections inside and to prevent anti-social behaviour in the area.
He wanted to know who had made the decision and why councillors hadn’t been informed.
The gates were closed on two days last week, despite the executive’s promise that they were to be left open.
Cllr Aengus O’Rourke was the first of three councillors to put forward a motion calling for the “unsightly” gates to be removed.
He said locals had been shocked to see them appear almost overnight.
A clearly furious Cllr Gabrielle McFadden insisted that the waterfront belongs to the people, not the council executive.
She said the gates are appalling and the whole town cannot be held to ransom by the small number involved in anti-social behaviour.
Cllr Paul Hogan agreed, saying he was baffled by how the decision could have been taken.
A strong community policing presence would have much greater impact than gates, he said.
“Remove the gates and let gardaí do their job. It’s a golden walkway,” he said.
Town clerk Hugh O’Reilly said the board of Athlone Art and Heritage had relied on Garda advice and their insurers’ concerns, and said there could be €0.5m IMMA art in the gallery at any time.
The decision to include the gates was made during the gallery’s construction and they were paid for as part of its development.
“The new boardwalk area forms part of an important town walking route and may form part of the proposed new Dublin Galway cycle route, it is hoped that these gates will never be closed,” the council said in their written response.
The intention was not to close the gates, but to have them in place if they are needed following a review of anti-social behaviour.
The final decision to erect the gates was taken by the council executive who will now have them removed as soon as possible