On Wednesday 27th January I received a phone call from a senior council official. He wanted to know what I would think of the council hosting a reception for the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland, at his request. "I think you know what my reaction would be" I replied "I would oppose it and if it were to happen we would mount a protest." I took it from his response that it wouldn't be happening.
Then, at the close of business on Thursday 28th January I received another call from the council - this time to invite me to a civic reception for the said ambassador, Zion Evrony, first thing the next morning. It appears that the Mayor of Carrickmacross Town Council, Mary Kerr Conlon, felt that it would be 'rude' to refuse such a request by a diplomat. Initially I gave Mary the benefit of the doubt. I thought perhaps she didn't understand the record of the Israeli government that Mr. Evrony represents. So I immediately called her and outlined the huge insult that such a reception would be to all of those people in Carrickmacross and further afield who are continually horrified by the actions of the Israeli government, particularly in the Palestinian territories. For some reason she wasn't for turning - she was insistent that the visit would take place despite the fact that she had no mandate from the council to host it.
Considering the short notice it is quite likely that Mary Kerr Conlon believed that there wouldn't be time for Sinn Féin to organise any sort of a credible protest. Thankfully she was wrong. A late night text message ensured that over thirty people were gathered outside of the council offices the next morning. Most of those people were from Carrick and many had taken the morning off work to attend. We were also grateful that a few people made that extra effort to travel. Fellow Sinn Féin Councillors Seán Conlon (Cathaoirleach of Monaghan Town Council), Peter Grimes (Castleblayney) and Sheila McKenna (North Monaghan) all came along. My staunch aunt Ann Kelly and her husband Tom travelled down from Dublin. I was also pleased that a former Workers Party Chairperson of Carrickmacross Town Council Francie O'Donoghue came along to show his support.
Suffice to say that Zion Evrony received the welcome he deserved. A dignified silent protest met him (and about 12 Gardaí who accompanied him) at the road adjacent to the council offices. Myself and Councillor Noel Keelan addressed him at the door of the council offices and informed him that regardless of whatever pleasantries the Mayor intend to greet him with his government were not, in fact welcome in Carrickmacross. I asked him to get in his car and return to his embassy. We then entered the council offices and made a formal, and perhaps heated, complaint to the Mayor and then left the chambers once more.
When the Ambassador was leaving we again informed him that the actions of his government were unacceptable to the people of Carrickmacross. We issued this statement after the protest.
Since then I am told that Zion Evrony wrote to my party leader calling on him to condemn my actions and those of the others who protested that morning. I don't think its a surprise that Gerry Adams did no such thing - Maith thú Gerry!
So then there was the political fall-out. Since the event I have received a fair bit of correspondence from Israeli supporters, mostly Irish. To give them their dues they are a committed bunch that will defend Israel to the last. Some of their comments though show a hatred towards anyone who does not agree with them that is unsettling. We've also had interesting media reports on the protest; This one is typical.
Carrickmacross Town Council met last Friday. I attempted to raise the matter and it took an almerciful shouting match with the Mayor before she allowed me to speak. I proposed that the page in the 'distinguished visitors book' which Zion Evrony had signed be removed. I further proposed that the council write to the Israeli embassy stating that their representatives would not be welcome to return to Carrickmacross Town Council until such time as their government acted in accordance with UN resolutions and International Law.
I was nervous about putting the vote to the meeting in case it failed to secure a majority and in which case the Mayor and her supporters would portray that as a vindication of her actions. However not to have a vote recorded in the minutes and to allow the page to remain in our visitors book would, I believed, forever sully the name and reputation of the council I am proud to have been a member of since 1999.
There are nine members of Carrickmacross Town Council. Obviously myself and Noel Keelan were going to vote in favour of my proposal. And I will be forever grateful to Councillors Catherine Martin and Kristina Jankaitiene of the Green Party and Padraig McNally of Fianna Fáil who all supported the motion. The other Fianna Fáil member, PJ O'Hanlon and the three Fine Gael members voted against.
But the motion was carried. Carrickmacross Town Council has redeemed itself and the Israeli Ambassadors' PR stunt has backfired - Zion Evrony has got his answer from our little town in South County Monaghan.