The members of Ballina Town Council this week decided that there would be no foreign trip this year for the Méara for St Patrick’s Day. The council members were considering an invitation from the twinned town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to attend the St Patrick’s Day parade on March 11. The councillors also were considering an invitation from the Athis Mons in France.
“I honestly don’t think that we can approve to send people away in the current climate,” Fine Gael councillor Barry McLoughlin told the meeting. “It’s a taboo subject, you can argue that it brings people back to Ballina, but I just don’t think that we can at this time.” His stance was backed by his party colleague Cllr Mark Winters. “I support, Cllr McLoughlin’s stance,” Cllr Winters said. “It doesn’t seem correct that we send some away. It doesn’t send the right message to the people at this time.”
Méara Cllr Frances McAndrew was in agreement with the two Fine Gael councillors. “I think that for the first time in the history of this council we are singing off the same hymn sheet,” she said. “I know there will be an open door to us in Scranton again and I’m sure that they will understand the reasons why this year we will not be able to attend. Perhaps next year the situation will be different.”
However there was some disagreement from some of her Fianna Fáil party colleagues. “I’m not looking to go, but I don’t fully agree that we shouldn’t visit our twinned town,” Cllr Willie Nolan told the meeting. “It can be a big benefit to the town here as has been outlined before. It is our national day and I think Ballina could benefit from it.”
His fellow Fianna Fáil member, Cllr Johnny O’Malley, said: “When I was in Scranton, I saw the pride that the Irish Americans had and the pride they had in holding the parade in their town. It’s a hard call in these economic times, but the Irish abroad is a big economic target and you only have to look at the influence that US companies have here with both Hollister and Coke in the town. I urge you to be as diplomatic as possible when you write to the Mayor of Scranton to let them know.”
When the issue of the invitation to Athis Mons came up Cllr O’Malley told the meeting that the sentiments were the same as on the Scranton invitation, which was agreed by the members.