THE FIANNA Fail politician who sparked a mass walkout from the council chamber after demanding an “Irish first” housing policy has denied that he is racist or has inflamed “anti-immigrant sentiment”.
Fine Gael councillors dramatically left a County Council meeting this Monday in protest over repeated demands by Fianna Fail’s Cllr Kevin Sheahan that a notice of motion to be sent to the Minister for Environment, calling for Irish citizens to receive priority over foreign nationals for places on the housing list.
The Fine Gael bloc said that their protest was down to Cllr Sheahan’s unruly behaviour and “lack of respect” for the meeting. However Cllr Sheahan, who is from Askeaton, was defiant, claiming that Irish people seeking social housing are being told “to go home to mammy”, while there are “handouts readily available to people who have just breezed in”.
Following the meeting, local migrants’ rights group, Doras Luimni, accused Cllr Sheahan of “inflammatory political rhetoric” which scapegoated migrants. “The comments are based on untrue and unfounded assumptions and only serve to heighten anti-immigrant sentiment”.
However Cllr Sheahan denied the accusations: “I am anything but a racist. I have had people of every colour, hue and religion staying in my home and sitting at my table. But I am a pragmatic, realistic person.
“There’s an angry public out there, and I will always defend and stand by my public. The migrant coming off the plane or the ship can’t be sent home to mammy, because mammy’s in another country. So they must be getting preferential treatment”.
There were farcical scenes in the council chamber in Dooradoyle this Monday when Fine Gael councillors, led by bloc leader Cllr John Sheahan, walked out of the meeting in protest at Cllr Kevin Sheahan’s behaviour. However as they attempted to exit the room, the electronic doors malfunctioned and momentarily locked everyone in.
Outside, Cllr Kevin Sheahan denied that he had sought to “hijack” the meeting. “Of course from time to time, there are outbursts when councillors feel passionate about particular issues.
“People complained to me that non-nationals have no difficulty getting on the housing list.
“I understand Fine Gael’s dilemma. They find it difficult to defend their own Government’s policy... and the best option for them was to walk out of the meeting and blame Kevin Sheahan for everything”.
The meeting resumed a short time later following talks between party leaders. In a written statement issued a short time later, Cllr John Sheahan said that Fine Gael took issue with “the lack of respect” that was being shown to the Cathaoirleach, Fine Gael’s Cllr Jerome Scanlan.
The statement criticised the “bluster” and “constant disruption to the agenda by some elected members with heresay and baseless accusations”.
Prior to the walkout, Cllr Kevin Sheahan had demanded that the Department of Environment “put Irish people first” in housing policy. He cited the recent example of a young woman from Shanagolden who had moved out of her mother’s house three years ago, but had lost her job and was looking to be placed on the housing list. Cllr Sheahan said that the county council were blocked from doing so by the department, and the woman was “told to go home to mammy”.
He described this “harsh treatment of our citizens” as “an absolute disgrace”, and claimed that Irish citizens were being “treated differently” to foreign nationals, who he said are given priority treatment for housing.
Cllr Sheahan called for the Government to follow the lead of UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who is proposing that immigrants must be resident in Great Britain for five years before they become eligible for social housing. “It’s an error we are making, and it will become a serious mistake... We should put our own people first. In the state the economy is in, it entitles us to do that”.
Cllr John Sheahan said that the council should seek written clarification from the department about any policy which led to this woman being told “to go home to mammy”, and that the issue be referred back to the next housing policy meeting.
However Cllr Sheahan persisted in his calls for a full notice of motion, leading to unruly scenes in the chamber and the mass walkout by Fine Gael.