A hotly debated 1916 commemorative stone in Mervue could be set to stay in place, despite being erected without approval from Galway City Council.
The 1916 stone, which is in place on council lands on Connolly Avenue in Mervue, appeared “overnight” and the mystery surrounding who paid for it and who erected it continues.
Monday’s special council meeting heard that the Mervue Residents’ Association were not involved in the erection of the stone, which originally featured an Easter Lily, traditionally worn by Republicans. The lily has since been covered over.
At last week’s general council meeting, Chief Executive Brendan McGrath said that the stone would be removed, in keeping with council policy that “no approval was sought for its installation and no approval was authorised.”
Outspoken FG Councillor Padraig Conneely said, “No one knows who erected it. No one knows who paid for it. The Chief Executive said it was to be removed. The council are dragging its feet on this.”
Cllr Conneely outlined that an invitation was sent to a number of residents to attend the unveiling and it had Sinn Féin Councillor Mairead Farrell’s photo on it along with the Sinn Féin logo. Cllr Farrell has since stated that Sinn Féin were not involved in the erection of the stone.
At Monday’s meeting, councillors spoke of the process undergone in Shantalla and Knocknacarra where discussions took place with the council before any commemorative stones were agreed. The Shantalla plaque was unveiled over Easter weekend and the Knocknacarra one will be unveiled shortly.
Local Councillor Declan McDonnell said that the Mervue situation was “handled badly.”
Councillor Terry Flaherty stated that the stone “should be opposite the shops, where everyone can see it.” She added that one of the residents approached her and said “they didn’t realise they needed permission or that it would be so controversial.”
Councillor Pearce Flannery added that the stone should be taken down and permission be sought for it. The plaque should then put it back in an appropriate place, he said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Cathal Ó Conchuir meanwhile said, “I never saw the stone. It has an innocuous message and I can’t see why people are so offended by it.”
Councillor Mairead Farrell said she was in favour of retaining the stone. “2016 is a time for us to come together. In 50 years’ time, people will look back and it’s important not to have negative comments. We should come together and be positive.”
Speaking to the Galway Independent, Mervue resident Cllr Farrell stated that Sinn Féin were not involved in the initiative.
“This is something that was planned by the Connolly Avenue residents for the centenary. The avenue is called after James Connolly, something that was seen as a very positive thing to do. I helped them out with organising the launch. It wasn’t a Sinn Féin initiative. It was very much a residents’ initiative.”
“I was assisting them with the launch. As a councillor, you have contacts and resources available. I distributed the invites to all residents in Old Mervue area. There are clearly new people coming into the area and it’s important to include them. Invites were put into letterboxes in Old Mervue. And they came along as we had over 100 people at it,” she said.
“I hope it is retained. It is a very positive initiative where a community come together and commemorate 1916. We don’t want it to be forgotten. Physical remembrances of 1916 are needed so future generations remember what happened.”
She added that Galway City Council’s Centenary programme encourages widespread citizen engagement in 1916 related events.
At Monday’s meeting, Councillor Noel Larkin described it as “a storm in a teacup”. “It is not an offensive plaque. I hope we don’t spend another hour debating a plaque and we should let the City Manager deal with it.”
Mr McGrath stated that last Friday the council were going to remove the stone but he received a letter from a Mervue resident asking for it to be retained.
Mr McGrath added that the issue was not a planning one and that the council are preparing a report on the matter and will revert back to the councillors once that report is finished.
A motion tabled by Cllr Conneely to remove the structure was withdrawn by the councillor, but it remains on the council agenda pending the outcome of the council report.