Councillors 'kept in the dark' over plans for barracks
Members of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad have lashed out at the protesters who have been gathering at Columb Barracks to object to the arrival of refugees who are being accommodated in tents in the complex.
But the councillors have also complained that they themselves have been left in the dark over what is happening and left without the information they require to answer the questions or concerns raised with them by members of the public.
As some councillors condemned the actions of those gathered at the barracks, one member even went so far as to state that “a mole or a rat” had to have leaked the information to the protesters about the arrival of the bus that brought the refugees to Mullingar.
“None of our political figures here in town knew that the bus was coming. How did those rats get to know that the bus was coming?” said Cllr Frank McDermott when the subject came up for discussion at the April meeting of the Municipal District of Mullingar Kinnegad.
“There is a mole or a rat - whatever you'd like to call it: someone had to know to be informed and that's the part that would worry me - apart from the appalling conduct.”
Discussion of the refugees and the protest arose after council officials revealed that “the minister” had written in response to the complaint from district members that the council received no advance notification before refugees were installed in the area.
The contents of the letter were not made public at the meeting. It was also not expressly stated which minister sent the letter, but the Westmeath Examiner understands it came from Roderic O'Gorman, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland.
Cllr Denis Leonard commented that it had taken the minister eight months to reply to the communication sent to him on behalf of councillors in this area.
“While I do note the contents of the letter, and it is very extensive; and I do note about the nature of the emergency situation that we are in, I still think that they missed in the department the most salient point, which is that we and every other local authority in the country, are very cognisant of the fact that we are responsible for planning, infrastructure, and tourism and housing accommodation - which is the main one - but also the services that are required in our towns and villages,” Cllr Leonard said.
Conceding that it would be “onerous” to consult with every single community group or local public representative, Cllr Leonard said he thought the minimum that should be done is to notify the local authority about refugee accommodation or asylum seeker accommodation.
“There should be communication between the department and the local authority,” he said.
Cllr Mick Dollard stated that there's a lot of concern being expressed around the town of Mullingar about the protests: “I agree with the three TDs who said that the protesters outside Columb Barracks certainly don't represent the people of Mullingar,” he stated, adding that a lot of the people who live around Grand Parade and Cathedral View are quite annoyed at the behaviour of the protesters.
He also believed there should be advance warning to local authorities when refugees are to be accommodated in an area: “The department should liaise with the local authority and advise them of their proposals,” he stated.
“On a regular basis, councillors are on the streets of Mullingar and they are being stopped by people - members of the general public - and we're totally in the dark.
“You have to respect citizens of the town and the county and if there's going to be a development taking place in a particular town or in a particular county, let the public representatives know.
“That will go a long way to relieve the anxiety that has been expressed by the local people.”
Cllr Dollard was also annoyed at the way the memorial at the barracks was treated “by a particular set of the protesters” who, he said, were not from Mullingar.
The mayor of the municipal district, Cllr Hazel Smyth, said the individuals protesting were not representing Westmeath or Mullingar and were not portraying it in the best light, which was unfair as it is a town that was very welcoming in nature.
She also agreed with Cllr Dollard that not all of the people who were protesting were from Mullingar and she said it was “a real shame” to see what was happening there.
She was particularly aggrieved to hear of the assaults on gardaí.
Cllr Frank McDermott said that for him, it was “an absolutely appalling vista”.
“Just imagine if the group of us here were put on the bus and all of our belongings were flattened, and we were invited to Iran or Iraq or Germany - or anywhere - and that's the sort of welcome we got when we got there: it's absolutely horrendous stuff,” he said.