AS a work colleague of mine always says, “if you’re looking for sympathy, you’ll find it in the dictionary between sex and syphilis.”
Still though, from time to time you have to feel sorry for our woebegotten councillors. Their lot isn’t always an easy one.
It’s bad enough we’re always pulling the Michael out of them here at the Council Affairs desk. They also have to take it on the chin from know-it-alls and tinfoil hat brigade on social media.
Then, of course, there’s those dastardly protestors.
In nine out of ten instances, the revolution will not be televised, but last week’s full meeting of Limerick City and County Council was deliciously not one of these occasions.
Held out in the Bernal Institute in University of Limerick, the touring local representatives had just settled into their new setting, had their fill of scones and sandwiches, and were gently lulling into a false sense of security that everything was going to be just fine.
Like unsuspecting antelope on the Serengeti plains, they were about to become lunch for wily environmentalists — who had already partaken in the finger food on offer, giving them just the sugar rush they needed to pounce.
Limerick’s 40 local representatives are tough old birds, never let it be said otherwise. And while there’s plenty of meat on them bones, there’s far too much gristle and chewing to consider them tasty. Far from tender, this lot are!
The meeting started off well enough, despite the change of setting, for these creatures of habit. Chowing down on the long grasses of local government, they set about their business as usual, as the hot unburdened air blew across the UL tundra.
In fairness, council members were in fine fettle and getting through their agenda at pace, right until the roar went up from the back of the room and protestors bared their teeth.
Leaping like mad yokes to the front of the lecture hall, the guileful environmentalists had just managed to unfurl their banner and take a few stray nibbles out of our frantic politicians before the good council members put tail between leg and made their escape.
‘Nature Rights Not Nature Crime’ read the big red banner, as the cowed councillors scarpered for cover.
Like a scene straight from Dad’s Army, Mayor of Limerick Cllr Francis Foley ushered councillors from the room before they were torn limb from limb.
Cool, calm, collected, and tapping into his inner “don’t panic Captain Mainwaring” sense of serenity, the Mayor handled the situation like a pro.
Watching proceedings from afar, via the council’s online portal, the scenes were far more entertaining than what is usually to be found on daytime television – and certainly the full monthly meeting of Limerick City and County Council.
“You may as well get comfy, we’re not going anywhere,” a few brave and curious stragglers, refusing to leave the chamber, were informed.
“Who are ye?” was the question then put to protestors.
“I won’t tell ye,” came the bold reply.
“Okay, I will tell ye. I live out next to Irish Cement and they live out next to the data centres that you think are such a great idea.”
Between all the scarpering for sanctuary, the message came through over the online feed that another room had been found and the executive were working on getting the technical side of things sorted before resuming the meeting in a new location.
“The protestors are gone, ye can come back” was the cry from the brave souls who stood firm in the original lecture hall.
After rallying calls of “We shall not be moved”, councillors were reminded the media were still present online, which was met with much disappointment and followed by an unfortunate stony silence.
Soon after this, council executive and councillors returned to hold the meeting in its original forum, and it passed largely without incident.
If anything, the bit of excitement seemed to put a spring in their step. Whether that was down to the adrenaline rush of fight or flight instincts kicking in I don’t know. But there was very little dilly-dallying, which in itself was highly unusual.
Let me tell you though, that feeling of fight or flight is one that any journalist covering the monthly meeting knows all too well. Often when the will to live is lost, I’ll turn to my colleagues in the Leader and Live 95 and suggest, “If you leave, I’ll leave”.
Sometimes, running is exactly what you almost feel like doing at these local authority meetings.
Look, freedom of speech and the right to protest in a peaceful manner are critical to a functioning democracy. Sometimes though, you have to think outside the box if you want to get your message across.
To those wonderful protesters, a suggestion, next time you want to make a point to councillors, instead write your message on their scones in chunky chilli sauce. They won’t like that!