Joseph Baldwin (38), of Ballyaneen, Gort, Co Galway, is now the subject of a garda investigation following his behaviour at a public meeting on Wednesday evening over development of a controversial biogas facility in the town.
Contacted yesterday, Mr Baldwin told the Irish Independent he was not concerned about the resulting furore, after TDs Anne Rabbitte and Ciarán Cannon spoke about their ordeal.
“Someone had to speak up to them two TDs. It will probably be forgotten about in two days,” Mr Baldwin said. “There will be something else done somewhere else, and that’s the way the world works.”
Fianna Fáil Junior Children’s Minister Ms Rabbitte and Fine Gael TD Mr Cannon were targeted by Mr Baldwin, who attended the meeting having packed two zip-lock bags with what he described as “cow dung”.
Both TDs attended the protest meeting in support of locals who oppose an animal waste plant given the green light by An Bord Pleanála despite plans being rejected by Galway County Council.
The meeting was called to discuss taking a judicial review against the decision, and €20,000 was pledged to the fight by those present. During contributions from the floor, Mr Baldwin erroneously claimed the government TDs were responsible for allowing the development.
One attendee said the cattle dealer was “ranting and raving and blaming the Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael government, and Ciarán Cannon rebutted him”.
“He told him the Government had no hand act or part in the An Bord Pleanála decision,” the attendee said. “Then he had the microphone taken off him by one of the committee members, but he took it back off him again and started raving about water.
“All I could see was a plastic bag flying through the air, and it fell maybe two rows short of Ciarán Cannon.”
Mr Baldwin then walked to the back of the room where Ms Rabbitte was standing and threw the second bag at her.
“But he was standing closer to Anne Rabbitte, and when I spoke to her afterwards, she was very shaken. She said he hit her in the torso, and it rebounded off her. It’s a disgrace. Behaviour like that undermines democracy,” the witness said.
“Baldwin left at first, but he returned after five minutes and stood no more than two metres from Anne Rabbitte for the rest of the meeting. It was very invasive.
“He was in her space the whole time.”
Mr Baldwin vehemently denied intimidating Ms Rabbitte and said he had not been ejected from the room. Growing increasingly irate, Mr Baldwin said: “I never said a word to her. I never done nothing. I went outside for a cigarette and came back in and listened to everything else. I stood in the same corner where I was all night.”
In 1991, Mr Baldwin’s now-deceased father PJ ran unsuccessfully for local election.
Asked if he would be upset if someone treated his father the way he had treated the Galway TDs, he said: “If he was a public representative, he would have been representing the people an awful lot better than they are.
“They are from the other end of the constituency, and they come here looking for their votes, and when the election is over, they go away and do nothing for the place.
“All our shops and businesses are closing down.”
Growing exasperated with the questions, Mr Baldwin said the situation was “being overdramatised”, and he was “kind of sick of it at this stage”.
“I’ve to go. I’ve too much for doing,” he said, before ending the call.
After the meeting, Ms Rabbitte tweeted: “Attended a meeting tonight and a bag of s*** thrown at me and my government colleague.”
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr Cannon said the man’s actions were “very intimidating”, especially towards Ms Rabbitte.
“He launched a tirade against us for allowing the plant to be developed even though we have no role whatsoever in the planning process,” the Galway East TD said.
“The ironic thing is if this was a decision left to the politicians of south Galway, we wouldn’t even have had the meeting because the facility would have been stopped in its tracks long ago, so he was directing his anger at the wrong people because we were there to support the local people.”
Local GP Dr Richard Joyce said the TDs’ opposition to the biogas facility, which he described as an “ecological disaster in the making”, was most welcome.
“The size of the plant is bigger than the boundary of most Irish villages. The chimney stacks will be as high as the church steeple in Gort with a permanent flame,” he said.
“It is being built 10 metres from the Gort river beside the river walk, and the entrance is 400m from the entrance to Coole Park in the middle of an accident black spot.
“They are building these huge subterranean concrete tanks that will hold 50,000 litres of effluent.
“We know of countless underground caves and rivers in that area, so there is a risk of a catastrophic ecological disaster for the whole of south Galway with this plant.”
“We are not going to let this go ahead. We’ll do everything we can to put a stop to it.”
Tánaiste Micheál Martin called Ms Rabbitte to support her.
Mr Martin’s spokesperson said this “kind of behaviour towards public representatives is totally unacceptable”, adding: “People have a right to protest and argue their points, but these kind of unacceptable actions damage civil society and democratic discourse.”