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Council meeting adjourned amid chaos

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CONTROVERSY There were dramatic scenes at the monthly meeting of Mayo County Council on Monday afternoon.

Two men thrown out after heated exchanges and dramatic scenes

Edwin McGreal
Castlebar

Gardaí were called to Mayo County Council HQ yesterday (Monday) evening after dramatic scenes in the council chamber led to its monthly meeting being adjourned.
It came after two men in the public gallery became involved in a spat with councillors after one of them was accused of ‘cat calling’ during the meeting.
The men were Stephen Kerr, Breaffy, and Liam Heffernan, Belcarra, who had both been involved in organising a public meeting in Castlebar the previous Friday entitled ‘Breaffy’s immigration outlook: what does the future hold?’.
Communications about the meeting had the names of Mr Kerr, his father Maurice, Kieran Barnicle and Roisín O’Donnell affixed to them.
That meeting was called in relation to 700 Ukrainian refugees and International Protection asylum seekers being housed at Breaffy House Resort. However, there was division in the local community over the meeting, with Breaffy Community Council disassociating itself from it.

‘Out, out, out’
The incident in the council chamber started when Cllr Gerry Murray (SF) was addressing the meeting on housing and he highlighted how climate change will displace people around the globe.
“It’s a problem that has to be managed,” he said.
At that stage Kerr, who was sitting in the public gallery, interjected, saying across the chamber: “That’s rubbish Gerry.”
He had also criticised earlier comments by Cllr Murray.
Cllr Brendan Mulroy (FF) stood up to take issue with ‘people talking from the public gallery’.
“We’re elected members. Cllr Murray is and I am. We have been elected by the people of Mayo and we have a mandate. I take grave offence to such cat calling in the middle of a meeting,” he said.
Mr Kerr initially apologised, but he then stood up and walked into the middle of the council chamber, criticising councillors who did not attend the public meeting.
At this stage, several councillors started shouting ‘out, out, out’.
Meanwhile Mr Heffernan started to film matters with a phone from the public gallery. Cllr Christy Hyland (Ind) told him, “You have no permission to film me.”

‘Conspiracy theorists’
Both men said that they were at the meeting to ask councillors to condemn a tweet by the former Socialist Party TD Ruth Coppinger. In a tweet on Sunday, Ms Coppinger accused Stephen and Maurice Kerr of ‘stirring up racism in Mayo’ at the meeting on Friday.
Addressing the councillors, Mr Heffernan said: “Stephen and his father were called racists because ye didn’t attend.”
All councillors had been invited to the meeting. Two attended, Cllr Michael Kilcoyne (Ind) and Cllr Blackie Gavin (FF).
A council staff member told Mr Heffernan to desist from recording and led him out of the chamber.
He then went into the centre of the chamber and led Mr Kerr out of the chamber. The Gardaí had also been called by the council.
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council, Cllr Séamus Weir adjourned the meeting for five minutes for order to be restored.
Subsequently Cllr Ger Deere addressed the meeting. He said there are issues in relation to Breaffy but ‘we need to refrain from reactionary type stuff’.
“One of those gentlemen who was just in here followed me while I was volunteering for the Tidy Towns and recorded me. What they are doing is not the way to do business. The community council in Breaffy are going about their business.
“We’ve had Ukrainian refugees and people from the International Protection Centre in Breaffy helping us with the Tidy Towns. They want to be involved with the community. I totally deplore what went on here.
“Those individuals [Mr Kerr and Mr Heffernan] have been involved in a lot of campaigns over the years. They’re conspiracy theorists as far as I’m concerned. With issues like this we need to deal with the community involved,” he added.