There was a packed gallery at Athy Town Council’s monthly meeting last Wednesday evening as a debate on same-sex marriage got under way.
Never in the past 100 years has an issue divided the town of Athy so much, noted Town Council Cathaoirleach Mark Wall.
Cllr Thomas Redmond called for the debate “that this council supports the equal access to civil marriage for all citizens of Athy regardless of race, religion or sexuality”. Catholic Voice editor and Athy man Anthony Murphy, along with supporters, were due to protest but that did not materialise. Lobby group Marriage Equality was in attendance,
Athy public representatives were under immense pressure from all corners, inundated with phones calls, text messages and social media campaigns the previous days.
“This motion should be ruled out of order, it is not relevant to the business of this council,” said Cllr Mark Dalton. He said it was a national civil rights issue and it should be dealt with by the Oireachtas and a subsequent Referendum. Cllrs John Lawler and Mick Dunne swiftly agreed.
The councillors then sought legal advice from the officials. “The officials are in agreement that this issue is relevant to the business of Athy Town Council. My thinking is that in this local authority we are here to represent everyone,” clarified the Cllr Wall. Town Manager Joe Boland agreed, referring to the Local Government 2001 Act. The motion stood.
Cllr Richard Daly then proposed an amendment to the wording of the motion. Given the time allocation of three minutes per person, such an issue of national importance to be discussed in 24 minutes is not adequate, he stated matter-of-factly. “This is a very serious issue that affects the future of our community,” he said noting “such division of late” was regretful. He asked the issue be referred for consideration in the upcoming Constitutional Convention where there would be “greater legal and social advice”.
Cathaoirleach Mark Wall had the casting vote. “We in the Labour Party has a very strong position on this civil rights issue. Never before in the past 100 years has the town been divided so much on such an issue. Therefore the best place for this to be discussed is at the forthcoming Constitutional Convention,” he declared.
And that was it. One by one people shuffled out of the public gallery and into the streets of Athy.
“We should consider very carefully the motions that we as councillors bring to the council, that they are relevant and that they do not cause any undue publicity our upset in our community,” said Cllr O’Sullivan after the meeting. Cllr Redmond responded: “Any councillor is entitled to bring any motion. Nobody is here to offend.”
“The precedent has been set,” said Cllr Dalton. “We have serious issues to deal with such as our budget. Our first priority is services . We have a chronic situation with unemployment and we need to attract businesses.”
The debate took another turn on local radio station later last week when Cllr Redmond called his fellow town councillors “bigots”. He subsequently retracted the statement.
- Lisa Deeney