Cllr Michael Mulligan flies the black flag.

Ireland sinks, but toilets and flags top local agenda

As the nation hung on the brink of financial ruin this week, two local councils became embroiled in the realm of political theatre and farce. Firstly, in Roscommon, Gardai had to intervene after a Sinn Féin councillor hoisted a black flag outside Roscommon's county building to signify the death of the country. The black flag was flown by Cllr Michael Mulligan moments after he told Monday's county council meeting that “a mafia†was controlling the country. The flag was removed by Fianna Fail's Cllr Paschal Fitzmaurice and Gardai soon arrived on the scene. Speaking to the Westmeath Independent yesterday, Roscommon Sergeant Padraig Burke said the incident came to the attention of the Gardai because of the close proximity of the Garda station and the county building. “The issue was dealt with at the time and the flag was taken down,†said Sergeant Burke. He added that the matter was still being investigated by the Gardai but he didn't expect charges to be pressed. Meanwhile, in Athlone, with a delicious irony that couldn't have been lost on those in attendance, just as Ireland Inc was going down the toilet - the council in Westmeath was opening, yes, you guessed it, toilets! At a low-key ribbon cutting ceremony, which suffered from unfortunate timing, and which was accompanied by more than a touch of farce, Waterways Ireland staff and Westmeath County Council management congregated on Monday last to officially open a new upgraded service block of toilets and showers at theCoosan Point amenity area. In Roscommon, the unprecedented events occurred at the start of the November monthly meeting, which took place a day after the Government formally approved an application for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Independent Mayor Luke 'Ming' Flanagan called for the Tricolour to be displayed at half mast outside the county building. “This nation has died,†he said. The Sinn Fein representative from Ballaghadereen, Cllr Michael Mulligan, then held up a black flag which he said should be hung outside the building. Cllr Mulligan said it was “a mafia that was controlling the country.†He added: “There should be new policies to get us out of all of this.†Castlerea's Cllr Paschal Fitzmaurice of Fianna Fail proposed a counter-motion that there would be no interference with the Tricolour outside the building. “That would be an insult to all of the people who died in 1916 and after, and you can't fly any other flag with the Irish flag,†said the Fianna Fail councillor. A shouting match then erupted between Mayor Flanagan and Cllr Fitzmaurice, while the Mayor prepared to take a vote on the counter-proposal. Sinn Fein's Cllr Mulligan left the chamber, went outside, and erected a black flag on an empty flagpole next to the Tricolour. His flying of the black flag was witnessed by the other councillors and press members from the upper window of the building. “Cllr Mulligan is acting outside the law of this country,†said Fianna Fail's Cllr Orla Leyden. “It's against the protocol of the Republic of Ireland. You can't make up your own rules.†When Cllr Mulligan returned to the chamber she told him to take down the flag. “I'm surprised at you, Michael,†said Cllr Paddy Kilduff of Kiltoom. Fianna Fail's Cllr Fitzmaurice was then seen pulling the rope of the flagpole and lowering the black flag, before removing it. By this time, a number of gardai had arrived at the scene and entered the building, where they spoke to the council executive. A short time later, all of the councillors re-entered the chamber to continue with the meeting. Yesterday Curraghboy's Cllr Ward described the flying of the black flag by Cllr Mulligan as “a step too far.†“We should be gone beyond the stage of political point scoring,†he said. “That kind of thing does no good to the people who are out of work or who are falling behind with their mortgage repayments. We're in a right mess as a country and we need to try and get on with it and resolve the problems that we have.â€