There was a difference of opinions on the issue of dealing with members of the public who are considered not to be practising physical distancing measures or heeding governmental advice to stay at home at Monday’s meeting of Louth County Council, leading Sinn Féin councillor Tomas Sharkey to rail against comments made by party colleagues.
The meeting, held at Town Hall in Dundalk, was truncated in part due to an eagerness to not to have all 32 people present in a room together for an extended period of time. However, the 70-minute long meeting was dominated by discussions regarding Covid-19 – the local authority’s response to it, how services and finances are impacted, redeployment of staff and physical distancing all among the topics of conversation.
Sinn Féin councillor Antoin Watters spoke at length about what we described as “reckless” behaviour of people who flocked to popular public area such as beaches and mountain walks. He suggested measures such as reducing car park capacity, which Cllr Watters claimed would perhaps deter large numbers of people availing of such facilities among high volumes of other persons.
“Over the weekend I have been inundated with calls from concerned constituents who are extremely worried about the situation. This is totally unacceptable. We all like to enjoy a walk on the beach but the crowds flocking to them are scary,” he said.
“I made the suggestion of closing part of the car park to try and reduce the numbers but the council were hesitant to make the change. At the moment, closing them totally may have to be considered to curb this reckless behaviour.”
On Tuesday, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – after receiving recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team – introduced a raft of new measures including the closure of playgrounds and a rule that states social gatherings in public may include no more than four people, unless they are from the same household. Parks and beaches remain open to the public, while advice and guidance on staying at home and ensuring physical distance when outside are being impressed on the general public.
Also at the meeting, Cllr Edel Corrigan spoke about increasing the provision of Covid-19 related signage in public areas and making related information more visible on the Louth County Council website. Director of Services Catherine Duff confirmed the local authority had signage up but were looking into the improving the provision of Covid-19 related signage.
However, Cllr Sharkey felt there had been too much discussion on the issue, choosing instead to focus on on the key message he felt was the only one that warranted promotion from the local authority, councillors and government. “We have to reduce the amount of commentary about Covid. There are two messages – stay distant and stay at home.
“We don’t need to decide how many Twitter accounts, how many websites, how many posters and now many gates and how many barriers and how many bollards. There are two sentences; Stay distant. Stay at home. Lets avoid talking about honeypots, car parks and beaches, playgrounds. We are merely adding to the conversation of how many honeypots we will have in county Louth.”
“We will not make a honey pot in county Louth. We will not make a honey pot at front doors of chemists. We want people to stay distant and stay at home. We’re not going to encourage and make it easy to park outside beaches, because we want people to stay distant and stay at home,” he said.
“There is only one source of information, the government’s line – stay distant and stay at home. Let’s stop confusing the public and let’s stop confusing ourselves.”