Cork and Dublin’s Occupy camps may have gone, but Occupy Galway is still on site in Eyre Square and has no plans to move despite growing opposition from many city councillors.
At Monday’s city council meeting, city manager Joe O‘Neill indicated that the council will pursue legal avenues to have the camp removed. “The camp is in breach of the public order act 1994, and we’re legally responsible for it,” he said.
He added that there were notices served on the camp last week from members of City Hall and the Garda. He also said that an HSE inspection was carried out which “said it’s not safe”.
Occupy Galway members have questioned these assertions. Occupy member Liam Heffernan told the Galway Advertiser last night (Wednesday ) that the camp received a notice from City Hall asking it to vacate the square. However he pointed out that the request itself was not legally binding. Mr Heffernan also said the camp has not received any notice regarding the health and safety of the camp.
Furthermore, in a letter to City Hall sent last weekend, the group pointed out: “The legality, or otherwise, of our protest has yet to be established. We believe we are within our rights to protest under Article 40 of the Constitution.”
The letter also said the camp “will endeavour to rectify whatever is necessary” regarding council concerns over health and safety. The letter highlighted that Occupy Galway had already requested a health and safety inspection in January.
Occupy Galway maintains a presence of at least 12 people nightly in the camp and some 30 to 50 others who stay over periods of time or are regularly resident in the camp.
A number of councillors want to see the camp removed before St Patrick’s Day but Labour councillor Niall McNelis said it could be quite a while before the camp is removed.
“The gardai are waiting to get an injunction to serve on the people in the camp,” he said, and added that the issue will be complicated further if the gardai return to remove the protesters and are faced with different people in the camp, which could require the Garda having to obtain new injunctions to serve.
The camp also differs from others around the country as it is on public land. “There will be a lot of cat and mouse before this is sorted,” Cllr McNelis said.
However Fine Gael councillor Pádraig Conneely will boycott the St Patrick’s Day parade as a result. “If that shanty town is there on St Patrick’s Day I will not be in the reviewing stand,” he said. “I wouldn’t lower myself. No one would get away with this in any other city.”
Monday’s meeting also heard a motion from Independent councillor Terry O’Flaherty who called for Occupy Galway to leave Eyre Square. The motion was passed by councillors, but there was some sympathy for Occupy Galway shown by Labour councillor Billy Cameron who said: “It’s time to negotiate, and not dictate.”
Mr Heffernan feels that this, plus the number of abstentions on Cllr O’Flaherty’s motion show there is a possibility for some agreement to be reached between Occupy Galway and the council.
“I hope we can all figure out a way to collaborate and come to some common ground,” he said. “There are still thousands of Occupy camps throughout Europe and in Ireland the Belfast camp is still going, Waterford and Limerick are still operating under the Occupy banner.
“The mainstream media has only chosen to fixate on the camps that have closed. This movement isn’t finished yet. There is still a great buzz around the camp and we want to keep the banking issue at the centre of the Irish psyche.”