‘Democracy taken away’ at County Hall after eviction ban debate prevented from happening

Sinn Féin Councillor Sharon Benson

A MEETING had to be abandoned at County Hall on Wednesday after angry scenes ensued following council members being prevented from debating a Sinn Féin motion calling on the Government to extend the eviction ban.

Temperatures flared after a counter motion from Fine Gael, calling on the Government to expedite the counter measures democratically passed by Dáil Éireann on foot of lifting the temporary eviction ban, was proposed and seconded on the day.

Limerick Mayor Francis Foley (FF) called for a vote on the counter proposal without any debate from council members on the eviction ban, which did not go down well in certain quarters of the chamber.

“No Mayor, that is not happening,” Cllr Sharon Benson fumed.

The reason for the emergency meeting, the Sinn Féin woman explained, was to discuss evictions and to receive a report regarding emergency accommodation, and she wasn’t going to be fobbed off with talk of standing orders and votes on counter-proposals.

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“I am calling for a vote. I have a proposer and seconder,” Mayor Foley replied.

Labour Party councillor Conor Sheehan wanted to know if he was attending a meeting of the “Russian Duma” or Limerick City and County Council.

“I can’t believe this,” he said.

Before a vote was taken, the Council’s Director of Housing Caroline Curley assured councillors that adequate emergency accommodation is available for the “fluid situation” they are dealing with.

Director Curley also told council members that the Council, together with the Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), are currently in talks with a lot of landlords about purchasing properties to keep tenants in situ.

A vote was then taken on the counter motion which was passed by 25 votes for and 11 against, with one abstention.

Speaking to the Limerick Post directly after the meeting, in advance of a second special meeting on the Limerick Development Plan, Cllr Sharon Benson said she would not be budging without answers.

“I am not leaving until I am heard,” she said.

“This is an absolute disgrace. They have taken away democracy. It is absolutely shocking.

“One Fine Gael councillor just told me they have to ‘protect our party’. It is an absolute disgrace. Who is going to protect the people waiting for eviction ban?”

Ten minutes into the following special meeting, Cllr Benson raised her hand to ask a question.

“We have unfinished business from the last meeting,” she told the Mayor.

At this point the meeting was adjourned and ultimately abandoned 25 minutes later.

Speaking to the Limerick Post after the meeting, Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan hit out that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael — with the support of the Mayor — blocked the motion because they could not stand over a decision that would place hundreds of people at risk of homelessness in Limerick.

“Refusing to allow democratic debate in council chambers is unacceptable, especially on an issue that has such grave consequences for so many,” Deputy Quinlivan said.

Labour Party councillor Conor Sheehan was also of the view that this is not how the Council should conduct its business.

“I came here today to get answers for the people who contact me because they received a notice to quit or that they are about to become homeless. This is a shocking way to treat them to not even debate the motion to try and suppress and deny democracy like this,” Cllr Sheehan commented.

“They may not agree with us that the ban needs to be extended but at the very least they should come out and state their position and debate this motion.

“What sort of message does this send to people in insecure housing? It screams of callous indifference and they should be ashamed of themselves,” Cllr Sheehan concluded.