Concerns that Clonmel Town Hall may be invaded by “militant left wing” protesters endangering people’s safety and property prompted the Labour Party to cancel a plaque unveiling ceremony on Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the party’s foundation.
Mayor of Clonmel and Labour Party councillor Darren Ryan said he took the decision at the last minute to call off the midday commemoration ceremony 180 people were invited to attend due to a “serious security threat” gardai brought to his attention on Saturday night.
Instead, the plaque erected in the Town Hall’s Council Chamber was unveiled by Labour Senator Denis Landy in a private ceremony attended by Labour Party figures at 8.30am on Sunday, hours before protesters were scheduled to gather outside the Town Hall to protest against the Government’s austerity measures ranging from household taxes to cuts to teaching staff in small rural schools.
An estimated 200 people mainly representing the Save Our National Schools group, the Workers & Unemployment Action Group and the Campaign Against Household Charges went ahead with the midday protest, which went off peacefully.
There was a significant garda presence at the demonstration and members of the Garda Public Order Unit were on standby in case of any trouble.
Gardai received information the day before that the protest may be infiltrated by extreme left wing groups - not members of WUAG - from outside the county, who may cause trouble. The Gardai alerted the Labour Party about their concerns shortly before the official opening of the Labour Party themed exhibition in the South Tipperary Museum in Clonmel by Minister of State Alan Kelly.
A spokesman for Clonmel Garda Station stressed that the Gardai didn’t advise the Labour Party to cancel the unveiling ceremony. That was a decision taken by the party.
The debacle surrounding the plaque unveiling has prompted a fresh row between the Labour Party and their arch political rivals, the Workers & Unemployment Action Group.
WUAG leader deputy Seamus Healy described the protest as “dignified” and accused Labour of “hiding” from the protesters and described their excuse for cancelling the ceremony as “bizarre” and “unbelieveable”.
“As is now usual, the Labour Party was in hiding, they had run away again, cancelling the ceremony and sneaking into the Town Hall earlier for a private unveiling.
“Three weeks ago Eamon Gilmore and the Labour leadership ran away, pulling out of the Clonmel commemoration and giving the pathetic excuse of the Referendum,” he continued referring to the Labour leadership’s decision not to take part in the Clonmel celebrations due to their proximity to the Fiscal Treaty vote.
Labour Minister of State Alan Kelly and Cllr Darren Ryan have staunchly rejected his claims and insisted the cancellation of the unveiling was based purely on concerns for public safety.
Minister Kelly said he agreed with the decision to cancel the event but was also “absolutely disgusted” that it had to be called off and very disappointed for Labour Party members, who had been looking forward to the event.
“I think Seamus Healy would want to cop himself on,” he declared. “That is a ridiculous and stupid thing to say. I would never hide from him. It was a pathetic comment as he is not aware of the full facts of the Garda intelligence. I would hope in the same situation that he would behave in the same way. To say that the Labour Party was in some way hiding from the likes of him is farcical.”
Cllr Ryan agreed. “I don’t take for one second the comment that we were hiding from the people. I will never hide. It’s my duty to be there for the public.”
He said the information they received from the Gardai was that some extreme left campaigners that had been involved in “quite unlawful behaviour” at protests in the past were planning to take part in the demonstration outside the Town Hall. There was a risk to the security of the Town Hall building, namely that people may have tried to gain access to the Council Chamber to disrupt the unveiling ceremony.
Cllr Ryan said he was led to believe the nature of the security threat was “quite serious” and he decided to cancel the public unveiling ceremony because as Clonmel’s first citizen he wasn’t willing to jeopardise anybody’s safety.
He outlined that 180 people representing all sections of the community as well as the Labour Party had been invited to attend the unveiling ceremony and they had to contact them on Saturday night to inform them of the cancellation. Some of the guests had planned to travel from Dublin, Limerick, Galway and Cork to attend the ceremony.
But Deputy Healy maintained that the real reason for the cancellation of the ceremony was that Labour was afraid to face the public because of the savage austerity being enforced by the party in Government, which had cynically broken its election promises.
“Labour’s way is now Frankfurt’s way,” he chided. “They are afraid to face the public of South Tipperary and Clonmel because Labour in Government has closed Kickham Barracks and the Labour Minister of State Kathleen Lynch has signed off on the closure of St. Michael’s Acute Psychiatric Unit at South Tipperary General Hospital.”
Deputy Healy said the Labour Party’s founders James Connolly and Jim Larkin were turning in the graves over the decisions of the party they had founded and claimed the real inheritors of the Connolly tradition were those who stood up for the ordinary people and protested against the austerity measures being imposed on them.
Mayor Ryan, however, said the protest was an insult to the memories of Connolly and Larkin. The plaque unveiling ceremony was an historic occasion commemorating these men and was above politics, he insisted. If people wanted to protest against the Labour party’s performance in government a more appropriate place would have been outside the party’s annual conference in Galway.