PROTEST was held outside Enniskillen Townhall at the weekend in protest against the recent rates hike and what has been branded “censorship” in the local Council chamber.
Last week, Fermanagh and Omagh councillors voted 23 to 10 to raise the local domestic rate by 2.72 percent this year. During the special meeting, bitter exchanges broke out after some members were not allowed to speak before the vote was taken and were then ‘muted’ by the Council chairman.
On Saturday these independent councillors, which included Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh and Cllr Eamon Keenan, took to the streets of Enniskillen in protest of what they said was censorship and efforts to “silence” independent members.
Speaking to the gathered crowd, Cllr O’Cofaigh said the process of ‘locking’ someone out as part of the post-Covid digital system for meetings, was “not unusual or unique” and was “increasingly standard practice.”
Cllr O’Cofaigh said this practice, where it was at the discretion of the Council chair whether to lock out members’ microphones during online meetings, was in breach of both the right to expression and Council Standing Orders, which rule that every councillor has the right to be heard on issues.
“As a result of our exclusion until after the vote, there was absolutely no discussion on how the rates would impact on struggling householders and small traders,” said Cllr O’Cofaigh.
“The electorate suffer when we are silenced,” he said. “The establishment parties may not like what we have to say, but we have a democratic mandate that must be heard.”
Meanwhile, Herald readers have been expressing their disgust on social media by the Council’s decision to raise rates once again this year, despite the soaring cost of living across the board.
“To the councillors in the chamber that voted for and seconded the proposals to increase rates on households that are already financially pressed, shame on you,” said one reader.
Following the announcement of the rates increase, which will amount to an increase of 1.2 percent on bills when coupled with the continued freeze on the regional rate, a spokesman for the Council said the rise was needed to help pay for Council wage increases, protect jobs and services, and will help fund many community projects in the year ahead.
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