Council Affairs: Trouble and tripe

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Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

SHUR weren’t the people of Limerick raised on packet and tripe?

Not the good councillors in the Adare-Rathkeale Municipal District it would seem. There’ll be no tripe served at their meetings, no sir. Or at least that’s what reporters were told in no uncertain terms at November gathering of our hearty country cousins.

“If you are prepared to write this stuff, you are not welcome at our next meeting.”

This was the message delivered to Limerick Post reporter Alan Jacques last week at a public council meeting in Croom by Cathaoirleach of the district Cllr Stephen Keary (FG).

The former Limerick Mayor was not at all pleased with the October 29 installment of this very column (available online to… how very dare we… Limerick Post subscribers) where honest fun was honestly poked at the fact that the district’s councillors only managed to see half of the nine issues on the agenda covered at last month’s three-hour meeting.

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“Unless you are writing accurately on what is taking place, there’s no reason to be here. It is absolute tripe. I will be taking it up with your editor,” he warned finger-wavingly.

As I’ve said, these lot won’t accept tripe. Or, it would seem, a fair definition of the word ‘accurate’.

I suppose the Limerick Post should really be grateful that poor Alan only received a verbal dressing down, rather than the full party whip.

Thanks for taking one for the team, by the way, Alan. I owe you a pint.

Dressing aside though – up, down, or indifferent – it did raise a couple of questions.

Not questions that could be asked at the time of course (the Municipal District’s Standing Orders 82 and 95 prevent members of the public from speaking or addressing Council members during meetings – something the good Cllr Keary seems to have forgotten), but important ones all the same.

Is it acceptable for elected public representatives to tell the media, or members of the public for that matter, that they’re unwelcome at public meetings? Is this how we safely protect democracy, by implying that the press are welcome only in the interest of reporting a policy maker’s definition non-tripe news? Worth a shot. Sticking to the food comparisons, we could call it ‘cod news’. As in, we’d be codding ourselves if this would ever fly.

William Randolph Hearst once said: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations”.

That’s a high falutin’ way of saying that, in this game, you can’t be all things to all people. Politicians don’t always like what reporters write. If they did, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs right. So finding yourself on the receiving end of a bollocking from a local councillor is par for the course. And thankfully so.

Another question we need our country cousins to consider is, ironically, where exactly do they think they are?

Do they believe that because their meetings are held in an office space not big enough to accommodate the public that their conduct doesn’t come under the remit of their own Standing Orders?

Holding public meetings in small, stuffy rooms – as the one in question was – can lead us to forget where we are and what we’re doing.

We have the wonderful, spacious County Hall, with adequate room for the public and the press. It’s a setting that reminds all involved that these are public meetings run by public representatives – and hell, if their meetings were actually held in a forum where the public had the option of attending, they might be reminded of that fact and behave accordingly.

Maybe meetings could be held or made available online either. Though, word to the wise, if you think daytime television is bad…

Look, I have no issue with any member of Limerick City and County Council taking me to task on something I‘ve written in this column. Take it with a pinch of salt, a steaming bowl of the stomach of some poor farm animal, or wrap your chips in it. Not everyone likes tripe, I get it!

And I’m not looking at making a mockery of councillors or the council here either. I have the greatest respect for most of them, believe it or not!

Sure, we have our rows, but that goes with the job. Most council meetings, and councillors for that matter, conduct their business professionally and in a manner befitting their station.

But, as the man says, all’s fair in love and war, so interpret my tripe anyway you wish, but, when it comes to public displays within your own hallowed halls, do it within your own code of conduct and the level of dignity expected of you as elected representatives.
As an old work colleague of mine used to say, “just do your job”.