'Trying to shout people down is profoundly anti-democratic' – Varadkar responds as meeting disrupted by protesters

A FINE Gael public meeting on proposals to bring in directly elected mayors in Cork and other cities was dramatically suspended due to protesters in the crowd.

Members of a group called the Connolly Youth Movement interrupted the meeting just as Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was being introduced.

One woman sought a minute’s silence for two homeless people that died in Cork in recent days.

Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune allowed a moment’s silence but when the meeting resumed other protesters began to read out a prepared statement.

The statements included criticisms of the government over the homeless crisis and austerity after the economic crash.

Ms Clune suspended the meeting and warned that it may have to be abandoned.

Members of the small group persisted with their statements as others in the crowd complained at the disruption to the meeting and sought to drown them out with applause.

There were chaotic scenes and jeers after protesters stood up one after another and attempted to read out statements.

Ms Clune struggled to regain control of the meeting and asked the protesters to offer their names.

At one point she said: “if this persists I’m going to have to cancel the meeting”.

The protesters were confronted by others in the crowd.

One man said “nobody wants to hear you. Why don’t you move and talk outside. Would you not be better doing that?”

The meeting resumed and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar delivered his speech in support of a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming plebiscite on a directly elected mayor for Cork City.

When he spoke, Mr Varadkar said: “whatever somebody’s political beliefs may be we should all be committed to democracy and we should all be committed to free speech.

“And trying to shout other people down or trying to shut down their meetings is profoundly anti-democratic.”

Speaking outside, Alex Homits, the general secretary of the Connolly Youth Movement said: “our statement was difficult to hear but the general point of it was Fine Gael produced austerity policy after austerity policy.

“We don’t think that they can come here, have a public meeting and not be questioned or challenged about it.”

Fine Gael is campaigning for a ‘Yes’ vote in plebiscites on directly elected mayors for Cork, Limerick and Waterford.

When the meeting resumed Mr Varadkar said Cork is a city that’s “rising” and “on the cusp of taking off”.

He added: “what can really add to that mix is your own mayor, elected by you, an advocate and a leader for your city to realise that ambition and that dream.

“That’s why why I’m asking you on the 24th of May to vote yes”.

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