Council Affairs: Return to sender

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

Dear Adare-Rathkeale Councillors, I am taking this opportunity to reply in relation to the very thoughtful invite to my colleague, better-half, alter ego, whatever way you choose to look at him, Alan Jacques, to return to District meetings.

Welcome to my ears as a fart in a spacesuit though it was when it was reported on these pages last week, I was shocked that I myself didn’t receive the golden call up to the plate. Regardless, I wanted to let it be known that there are no hard feelings. I have other councillors to rile.

What I did find interesting though was the timing of the invitation.

Let’s forget for a second that it only took ye a whole six months, working under the assumption that you had actually banned the brazen Mr Jacques from your hallowed halls, to let him know he could tuck tail between leg and get his pen and notebook ready for your monthly agenda (no pun intended).

Let’s forget that for a second and chew over the fact that in the same week Mr Jacques’ invitation arrived, another prominently placed story appeared in another well-respected Limerick publication about a fracas (a hoo-hah even) between District members over the housing of Ukrainian refugees in Askeaton.

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It’s hardly possible there’s another agenda at play outside of loftily upholding the media’s right to attend public meetings, is it?

Far be it from me to say that Mr Jacques has the most cosy history at Adare-Rathkeale meetings.

Even beyond the ill-fated incident of last November, way back during the golden days of 2017, Cllr Stephen Keary (then Mayor and current Cathaoirleach of the District) hit out at our lovable sh*te-stirrer for his ‘unprofessional’ conduct reporting on a meeting on rural crime in the county, prompting then Social Democrats chairperson Sarah Jane Hennelly to remind him that politics, like journalism, also requires professionalism.

“It is not appropriate for a public representative to attack a journalist for printing something they believe to be in the public interest. A free press is vital to an informed society and a functioning democracy. This practice from our Mayor, a practice very likely to seep down further in local politics, is something we as citizens must put a stop to before it accelerates,” she said at the time.

Before that, in June of the same year, the same Cllr, on the cusp of becoming mayor, hit out at Mr Jacques once again, alleging that he had taken him out of context.

Cllr Keary was landed in hot water when Mr Jacques reported at an Adare-Rathkeale meeting that he had claimed that social welfare tourists from Eastern Europe saw Ireland as “easy pickings”.

The Galway-born engineer maintained that this was part of the reason for the substantial rise in the numbers on social housing lists and hospital waiting lists in recent years.

”The influx of non-nationals into the country is a major drain on the State. People have come here from Eastern Europe for the handouts. It has become a huge problem here. We are known as home for the handouts. They see us as easy pickings,” the Fine Gael man added.

Even the Taoiseach of the day, Leo Varadkar, was called upon to urgently investigate the matter and take appropriate action, as the national media got their hands on the story and then Mayor Keary hit out that Mr Jacques had taken him out of context.

Further back in the Adare-Rathkeale district, in May 2015, the same councillor again took issue with Jacques’ reporting after a story earlier in the year went out about an overnight trip to France costing €10,128 to the Morcenx plant after Council members agreed to lease the former Gortadroma landfill in West Limerick to US firm CadenceEnvironPower to develop a gasification plant. (The plant that councillors visited was not even fully operational at the time because of a breakdown.)

“All I’ve seen is negativity. We were not enjoying luxury but running around while we were there. I am totally disappointed. They should be ashamed of themselves for their gutter statement,” Cllr Keary said at a public meeting after Jacques’s article appeared.

Okay, so much of the sword-clashing comes from the same place it would seem, but in fairness to the man, at least he is consistent, a straight shooter. I take my hat off to him for that.

You always know where you stand with Stephen Keary and that’s a good quality in any man. If he comes at you, it won’t be from behind.

But given the timing of last week’s invitation, and the reporting in context around it, can we say the same of all the players on the pitch?

That’s not as clear unfortunately.

You have to develop a thick skin in the newspaper trade, so for our cranky council-reporting hack, bombast and petty gripes are water off a duck’s jacksy.

But, for me, the matter has taken up more than its fair share of column inches with its Ballymagash shenanigans.

The invite (or lack thereof) is noted and it’s time to give someone else a go.

Yours faithfully,

Sean Mellor