The Irish Independent was accused of “gutter” journalism at this month’s meeting of Westmeath County Council (February 23 ) after it accused a councillor of laziness when he’d actually been bereaved.
The meeting opened with a vote of sympathy for Cllr Tom Allen on the death of his elder brother Michael and for the family of council employee Peter Tone.
After the three party leaders had paid their respects, Cathoirleach Joe Whelan voiced his anger with the O’Reilly organ.
“I would like to express the disgust and annoyance at a recent newspaper article for saying Cllr Tom missed three [council] meetings,” said Cllr Whelan.
“What they didn’t say was that on two occasions he was in hospital and on the third occasion at his brother’s funeral.
Cllr Whelan was referring to an article in the Irish Independent on January 26 by Fiach Kelly in which all local authorities were polled to see what councillors missed how many meetings last year.
Cllr Tom Allen was recorded as the most absent in Westmeath but was not contacted by the reporter to explain himself.
“He was hospitalised twice and at his brother’s funeral the third time,” Cllr Whelan pointed out.
“If they’re going to give the picture, they should give the full picture,” said the visibly angry Cathaoirleach.
“I would hope the media in the future, when they’re trying to take cheap shots they would stay out of the gutter,” said Cllr Whelan to a unanimous chorus of bipartisan “hear-hears”.
As Cllr Whelan had not mentioned the paper by name in his diatribe, all three local representatives of the fourth estate were on tenterhooks until a relieved clarification at the tea-break.
Along with the votes of sympathy before the meeting attended to the agenda, Cllr Whelan told the council he would be declining the invitation to attend the St Patrick’s Day parade in New York “on account of the financial situation at the moment”.
“It’s not the right signal to be sending out,” he added.
Cllr Whelan qualified for the invite as Chair of the County Council.