Protestors from Inishowen were leading from the front as anti-austerity campaigners entered Donegal County Council chamber on Monday last.
The protest ended shortly after a Garda inspector entered the chamber, while protesters engaged two councillors in conversation. The inspector said he was asking protesters to leave before he called in more gardaí, and shortly after, protesters filed out of the chamber and the building.
After leaving, protesters stood outside County House in Lifford, chanting, blowing whistles and beeping horns, and forcing the council to adjourn for lunch because discussion could not be heard over the protest.
Donegal Action Against Austerity organised the protest to coincide with the council’s February meeting. At about 11am, when the meeting was scheduled to start, about half of the group that had been standing outside filled the public seating in the council chamber. Some protesters, including a man in a Spiderman costume, stood.
Fourteen of the 29 councillors, including Donegal Mayor, Labour Cllr. Frank McBrearty Jr., joined the county manager and directors of service in the chamber at about 11.30am. Protesters waited quietly as councillors quickly went through agenda business.
However, about 10 minutes after the meeting began, Trudy McLaughlin of Moville stood to read a statement.
“The purpose of today’s protest is to highlight the anger at the government’s continued policy of attacking the living standards of ordinary people to satisfy the needs of bankers and bondholders ...” she said, her words soon swallowed by the sounds of other protesters blowing horns and whistles. She continued reading the lengthy statement as the noise and chanting continued.
Ms. McLaughlin told councillors that campaigners were gearing up for local and national protests, “that will bring it home to government politicians in this county that we will not allow business as normal while they attack us in this way.”
Gerard Gallagher of Falcarragh said he installed a septic tank to council specifications in 1997 and said if it failed inspection he believed the council should be responsible. “Will one of you boys say something about it?” Mr. Gallagher asked.
Councillors and senior staff listened to protesters but did not respond. From the back of the chamber, a protester imitated the sound of a chicken clucking.
Later another protester, Philip McFadden of Carndonagh, drew applause from protesters when he said, “People can’t pay their grocery bills, can’t pay their oil bills, and then you go to New York.” He said he could see a reason for the trip, “but not at this time.”
Margo McGrory of Buncrana said, “Don’t think we’re just a handful. There are a lot of people who are afraid to come out.”
“You never knew poverty,” Ms. McGrory said, adding that she sees families with children struggling daily. “It’s not that people don’t want to pay. They can’t pay.” She said she had never before protested, but added, “I feel so strongly for young families.”
Later, independent Cllrs. John Campbell and Ian McGarvey responded to protesters’ questions about water metering and septic tank registration, and protesters thanked them for their contributions.
“What I have said and others have said is we won’t register our tanks until a proper scheme is brought in,” Cllr. Campbell said.
Shortly after 12.30pm, Garda Inspector O’Donnell entered the chamber and identified himself. He said he was in charge of a number of gardaí outside and had vans coming, but offered protesters the option to leave.
“You made your point, you got the publicity you wanted,” Inspector O’Donnell said. He said disrupting council business was a breach of the peace.
The inspector took a seat in the chamber as the meeting resumed and shortly after, protesters rose to leave.
“Thank you very much, council,” Mr. McFadden said, as the group left. John McCluskey of Drumkeen said future protests will be peaceful and added, “We’ll be back.”
Mayor McBrearty said he had no problem with peaceful protest, “but that wasn’t a peaceful protest.” The mayor also objected to the way he said councillors were “being abused” because of party affiliation, saying comments have been made on line “about members of Donegal County Council who have no power over their parties in government or opposition”.
He said every elected member tries “their best to do the job they’re elected for. To get abused in the manner we were abused [on Monday], it’s not on.”
“The bottom line is there’s issues happening nationally that we have no control over,” the mayor said, citing the household charge and septic tank registration.
A council spokesperson confirmed that the county council requested the Garda presence.