‘A land, revenue and population hijack’

The strength of opposition to the threat of south Roscommon being subsumed into Co. Westmeath was made clear at a public meeting, attended by around 1,500 people, at the Athlone Springs Hotel, Monksland, on Monday night.

  The function room was full to capacity, and hundreds of people were forced to stand in the hallways for the duration of the three-hour meeting. Numerous others arrived at the hotel but, unable to find space, returned home.

  The event was organised by Save Roscommon, a community-led organisation. It was established to protest against moves for the greater Athlone area to be governed by one local authority.

  Last summer, Environment Minister Alan Kelly announced a review of the Athlone boundary and formed a three-man committee to recommend whether Roscommon or Westmeath county councils fulfilled the duty.

  They are due to report by the end of March.

  Last week, it was confirmed that Co. Roscommon’s county boundary could be moved as a result of the committee findings.

  Monday night’s meeting was chaired by Cllr. Tony Ward, the chairman of Save Roscommon, who told the meeting that 30 sq. km. of south Roscommon, and 7,000 residents, was in jeopardy.

  The thriving Monksland area is mainly under threat, but so are the smaller regions of Bealnamullia, Drum, Summerhill, Bogganfin and Barrybeg.

  Various strands of society pledged their unstinting support to Save Roscommon’s campaign, including politicians, General Election candidates, members of the clergy, GAA clubs and groups such as Roscommon Chamber of Commerce.

  It was agreed that a strong campaign would be waged.

  Thousands of submissions are expected to be lodged; a legal challenge may be taken; there were calls for a referendum to be held on the issue; a protest march across the bridge in Athlone will also be held.

  By last Friday, only six submissions had been received by the boundary review, but Cllr. Ward said that he expected that number to grow hugely.

  “I would be disappointed if, as chairman of the group, we can’t get 14,000 or 15,000 submissions in a county of 64,000 people,” he said.  Another member of the Save Roscommon committee, John Tiernan, a former county manager of Roscommon County Council, explained the process involved in filing submissions. The closing date is January 27.

  He also called for a referendum on the issue to be held.

  “It is not on our statute books that we can have a plebiscite on this issue, but we are asking for one,” said Mr Tiernan.

  “We are asking for a referendum in the affected area because that is called ‘putting people first’ and basic democracy.”

  He also said that the group were “looking at the possibility of a legal challenge” and that they had already challenged the three-man committee’s terms of reference for the boundary review.

  In announcing the review last June, Minister Kelly said that bringing Athlone under one local authority would benefit the area, but Mr Tiernan claimed that there were far more sinister motives at play.

  “My personal view on this is that it is nothing less than a land, revenue and population hijack,” he said.