LIMERICK City and County Council’s most recent meeting took an Orwellian twist when conspiracy theories and tinfoil headgear became the order of the day across the Dooradoyle chamber.
There’s often a real Dr Strangelove feel to proceedings out in County Hall, but the ante was well and truly upped last week when gabardine coats and fedora hats wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Green Party councillor Seán Hartigan – who has obviously read his fair share of Ian Fleming novels – was looking for a license to stamp out illegal bootlegging of their monthly live performances.
Somehow I can’t see a fella trying to peddle cassette tapes of last month’s local authority meeting for a fiver outside Brown Thomas taking off.
Still, Hartigan called on the local authority to video record all public meetings to provide an accurate transcript and to make these recordings publicly available.
Listen. If you think daytime television is bad, just thank your lucky stars you don’t have to suffer the monthly gathering of our all-grinning, all-dancing local representatives. You wouldn’t be right for days after it.
It’s beyond me why they believe anyone would want to give up their afternoons and evenings, and possibly nights, to hear councillors harp on about dog poo, potholes, and cycle lanes.
Shur didn’t they almost break the Limerick Leader’s melts there recently keeping poor Nick Rabbitts out until all hours at overlong meetings.
Look, I can’t stomach Dáithí O’Sé at the best of times, but I’ve often dreamt of being at home in front of the fire with a smoke and a shot of turpentine watching RTÉ’s Today Show rather than being close to tears out in County Hall.
Really, why would you do it to yourself if you didn’t have to be there?
Try and picture a backwater pantomime channelling Joe Duffy’s Liveline and Bunny Carr’s Going Strong, performed with over-the-top theatrics from the cast of Glenroe and the priest with the boring voice from Father Ted and you are somewhat close to entering the Twilight Zone that is local government.
Really, the full meeting of Limerick City and County Council mostly gives all 40 councillors the opportunity to find different ways to say the exact same inconsequential thing as the person who came directly before them, like Chinese Whispers for the doomed soul. And they have made an art of it.
Anyway, Hartigan’s thinking is that maybe some unscrupulous looney tunes are already turning up at meetings and recording councillors and sticking them up on the auld FaceTube to make a mockery of them.
Honestly lads, unless the infamous Jigsaw killer from the Saw franchise has invented some very specific and very low stakes new form of torture for internet users, I think you’re safe.
While councillors, no doubt, wouldn’t say no to becoming overnight TikTok sensations, God forbid they ever be taken out of context. And this is where the crux of all this lies. This, you see, is the golden get out of jail card councillors don’t want taken away from them.
If the meetings were live-streamed or recorded for your perusal at a later date, councillors couldn’t accuse the press of taking them out of context when they find themselves in hot water.
Actually, a lot of times, I don’t think some of them are even aware of the dangerous tripe that comes out of their mouths.
Explaining the reasoning behind his motion at the January meeting, Cllr Hartigan said: “The fact is, anybody could record a meeting and put it up online out of context.”
The Green Party man wasn’t wrong though when he suggested that recording the meetings would also make them shorter and more efficient, saying:
“It would filter out the waffle and grandstanding and make them more professional.
“This is for our protection. We need to be real here. I am talking about protecting us. If you think you haven’t been recorded — you’re nuts!”
Well, from one Seán to another, you’ll get no argument from me on that front.
It was also suggested at the meeting that if the media weren’t present then they wouldn’t go on half as long. Again, no argument from me, if that’s the road you want to go down.
Since the dawn of Covid, there has been an online element to the local authority meetings where councillors, staff, press, and members of the public can tune in to meetings via the worldwide web.
Fine Gael councillor Stephen Keary – who coincidentally once quizzed our reporter Alan Jacques at a public meeting over who had or hadn’t been present to observe the council’s affairs, breaking standing orders in the process – had an entirely different take.
(I suppose the fact he asked whether I had been hanging off the ceiling should indicate the vividness of his imagination.)
Cllr Keary pointed out to the council executive that there was a lot of names on the online portal that he didn’t recognise and demanded to know who they all were.
“You should forget about online. You can’t guarantee security at meetings. You don’t know who’s with them,” he pointed out, before suggesting you could have up to six people sitting around a screen recording proceedings, like an apres-Costello’s huddle around a bag of cans and a laptop to watch a dodgy UFC stream with Eastern European subtitles.
Lads, if ye are out there and that’s how ye are passing your time, get help. Seriously. You are on the road to ruin.
Thankfully, some councillors can actually see themselves and were able to poke fun at the very notion of them being worthy of their own daytime slot.
Labour Party councillor Conor Sheehan didn’t think the public were missing out on much.
“It is enthralling stuff. People never repeat themselves,” he joked.
As is the case in many of life’s situations, it often takes a woman’s perspective to drive the point home.
Social Democrats councillor Elisa O’Donovan told the council executive that she had been calling for meetings to be streamed for the last two years to no avail. This, she opined, would make the work of the Council more transparent.
Making no apology for being practical and discerning, Fianna Fáil councillor Bridie Collins also pierced the hot air bellowing around the chamber with her cool and estimated input.
“The meetings are open to the public. People are free to sit in the gallery or to get the link to observe online,” she pointed out.
So folks, if, like me, you feel like throwing an empty bottle of methylated spirits at the TV every time Dáithí O’Sé comes on, just count your blessings that the Council’s meetings won’t be shown on national airwaves any time soon. Because believe you me, that monthly meeting is akin to getting root canal work and a colonic irrigation at the same time, all while watching the Rose of Tralee.
In the immortal words of Sean Connery’s 007, “there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking a Dom Perignon ’53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs”.