Donegal County Councillors have expressed serious safety concerns about attending future council meetings without adequate protection from ‘harassment, intimidation and bullying’.
A special meeting of the council turned into disorder on Monday, with gardaí called to the Aura Leisure centre to investigate an alleged theft.
The meeting was adjourned four times and eventually abandoned following chaotic scenes both inside and outside the meeting room. During one adjournment, a dispute between councillors escalated into a case of alleged theft when Independent Cllr Frank McBrearty took a mobile phone from the hands of Cllr Gary Doherty.
Gardaí have confirmed to Donegal Daily that enquiries are ongoing into the alleged theft.
It is the second time in 12 days that gardaí have been called to a council meeting. Another heated incident in the Lifford County House saw the Lifford-Stranorlar Municipal District adjourned at the end of June.
After Monday’s incidents, the meeting to discuss the ‘An Crannla’ report is due to resume next week.
However, Cllr Ciaran Brogan and other members called for heightened security before they meet again. Cllr Brogan said that the “harassment, intimidation and bullying” cannot be tolerated any longer.
“There have been incidents that have happened before, but at this point in time we need a meeting with senior management and gardaí to have a plan in place.
“To expect elected members and staff to come back here next Monday, with the same plan in place, I hate to say it not it’s not safe, is not fair,” he said.
Seeking greater protection for elected members and council staff, Cllr Brogan called for senior management and the Chief Executive to examine the safety of the workplace.
“Unfortunately, as I see it, this workplace is no longer safe.”
Cllr Gary Doherty, speaking following the alleged theft, asked if somebody is going to have to be physically injured before there are sanctions.
“I don’t know where we go from here, I really don’t, but I’m at the end of my tether here,” he said.
Cllr Gerry McMonagle said: “We would try and laugh off the bullying and the intimidation and the accusations but it’s getting far too much, it’s getting very near the bone and it’s impinging on everybody in here, on their health and wellbeing.
“This can’t be tolerated any more.
“Everyone one of us here is on the same page, with the exception of Frank McBrearty who is hell-bent on, and he said it publicly, that he was going to “wreck this council”.
“He’s not going to wreck the council that I am sitting on, because I’m not,” Cllr McMonagle said.
Newly-elected Cathaoirleach Cllr Liam Blaney responded to councillors’ concerns and said: “I’m going to use all the tools and powers that I have, which unfortunately there is only a certain amount of powers I do have as chairman, but we will take on board what has been said here, we will look for a meeting with senior gardai and we will see if we can improve on some of the powers that we have before next Monday. I don’t think we can improve too many as far as the council is concerned. Maybe gardai should be visible at our places for the next while after the scenes we’ve seen here today. Hopefully we’ll be able to come back on Monday refreshed and able to start anew again.”
“I’m determined this council is not going to turn into a circus,” Cllr Blaney said.