There’s a remarkable story doing the rounds at the moment about a Labour Council candidate in Westmeath sending a litter warden to investigate a woman who tore up one of his leaflets, but I’ll come back to that in a minute.
It reminded me of a story I was told recently concerning Fianna Fáil candidates in Limerick who put election literature through a letter-box marked No junk mail. The person who told me this was the householder involved, and I believe him.
When he found the offending flyer, he went out and saw two canvassers at his neighbour’s door.
Excuse me. Did you read the sign?
The one that says No junk mail.
That’s not junk mail. I paid for it.
If it comes through my letterbox and it doesn’t have my name on it, it’s junk mail. And now it’s going in the bin.
Don’t you dare put that leaflet in the bin. It’s my property. I paid for it.
Any chance of a vote?
Now, if that was me, I know that I’d have torn up the leaflet right there in front of him, just to annoy the arrogant clown, and that’s precisely what Michelle Byrne did when Gerry Sheridan turned up at her door. Gerry, incidentally, is a former Council official and now a member of Mullingar town council.
What did Gerry do when Michelle tore up his leaflet? In his own words he “reported” her to the Council for littering. That word reported is very revealing, because it betrays the fact that Gerry has never shaken off his authoritarian official mindset. But even more revealing than Gerry’s little act of retaliation was the response of Westmeath County Council, who promptly sent a litter warden, from the department Gerry used to work in, to investigate.
The warden, citing an incident with a candidate the day before, found a piece of a torn-up leaflet and on the basis of that evidence, Michelle was served with a notice demanding €150. It seems Gerry still has friends back at HQ who were prepared to investigate this allegation of littering from their former work colleague.
Of course, the attempt to fine Michelle Byrne is nonsense, since the Council will be completely unable to prove in court that the piece of paper found on the road was put there by her. For all we know, Gerry might have accidentally dropped it in a fit of rage while tearing his hair out. A judge would kick this one out immediately and I hope Michelle fights it.
However, more importantly, I hope Westmeath County Manager, Pat Gallagher, investigates the actions of those staff who seem to have facilitated Gerry Sheridan in his attempts to punish a recalcitrant citizen. After all, there’s no doubt that litter wardens have important jobs to do, but they also have to prioritise, given the restrictions on available staff. Is it credible that a litter warden’s time is used to best effect by driving to Michelle Byrne’s home, searching for a small piece of paper and going to court seeking a conviction?
Do they do this all the time? In my view, it stretches credibility beyond breaking point.
Likewise, I hope Michelle or somebody else makes an official littering complaint against Gerry Sheridan for attaching his election posters to poles, unless he has express written permission to do so. No doubt the Council’s Environment directorate (where Gerry used to work) will be just as quick to follow up on that complaint, and with any luck, Gerry and Michelle might meet up in court as defendants.
I know who I think would walk out of court with a hefty fine.
Gerry Sheridan immediately collapsed under the weight of public ridicule and paid Michelle’s fine. It’s a pity that she agreed to accept this instead of going to court and calling his bluff by forcing him to testify, but the matter is not yet finished, since the county council still need to explain their actions in this ridiculous little debacle.