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toxic Galway councillor 'was called a snake, a pig and a female dog' in cycleway row

Abusive messages were sent to Independent Mike Cubbard and FG's Clodagh Higgins for their involvement in a controversial vote over a temporary cycleway in Salthill

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Fine Gael Galway City Councillor Clodagh Higgins

Fine Gael Galway City Councillor Clodagh Higgins

Fine Gael Galway City Councillor Clodagh Higgins

Two Galway city councillors have spoken about the abuse they have received in recent years in the course of carrying out their public duties.

Abusive messages were sent to Independent Mike Cubbard and Fine Gael’s Clodagh Higgins recently for their involvement in a controversial council vote over a temporary cycleway in the Salthill suburb.

Last Monday, Galway city council did a U-turn on a planned trial cycleway along the city’s famous promenade.

After voting 17-1 in favour of going ahead with the trial 3.4km cycleway, similar to that along the coast in Dún Laoghaire in Dublin, the matter was put out to consultation, with council officials laying out several options for the route.

However, the plans, although welcomed by many, met significant opposition from local businesses and residents over loss of parking and traffic disruption. Emergency services also raised access concerns.

The original motion to proceed with the trial was eventually overturned by 13 votes to four at last Monday’s meeting and the likelihood of the project ever being realised now looks very uncertain.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, councillor Higgins said the “toxic” calls and emails began, when she made it public that she would not support the plans presented for the proposed cycleway.

“I got a number of toxic emails and phone calls. They weren’t nice.

“I was called a snake and I was called a pig and I was called a female dog… I also received similar calls in relation to my position and how they felt I wasn’t a suitable parent. They questioned my whole parenting.”

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Independent Galway City Councillor Mike Cubbard

Independent Galway City Councillor Mike Cubbard

Independent Galway City Councillor Mike Cubbard

Councillor Higgins said “all councillors” in Galway city have been verbally attacked in recent months and the abuse has come from individuals and groups on both sides of the debate.

Last year, the Fine Gael councillor was targeted in a similar fashion after she proposed the installation of wheelchair accessible benches - a style of bench that had the middle removed to allow a wheelchair fit between people seated either end – in the city. She was accused of supporting hostile infrastructure and being “anti-homeless”.

“That time was exceptionally difficult. The messages I received; I was encouraged to kill myself… I was told to ‘thread lightly’ and then I was told that I sign-up for everything I get as a politician.

“It was a very stressful time for myself and I’ve no problem showing my vulnerabilities and saying I was very upset and very overwhelmed.”

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This sentiment was echoed by councillor Mike Cubbard who was previously forced to leave his home with his family for a short period after threats of violence were made them.

The incidents began after councillor Cubbard spoke out against anti-social behaviour in his community while he was serving as the city’s Mayor last year.

“In a large, large graffiti writing right across my local community centre… it was ‘Cubbard we will burn you out of your house’… Fast forward a few months later it happened again. Again, we reported it to Gardaí.

He added that on another occasion an individual confronted him in public and said: “I will burn your house down with your kids asleep in bed.”

Councillor Cubbard said his family “are not on a ballot paper” and there is a growing number of people who find this type of intimidation acceptable.

He said the issue has been inflamed again by the Salthill cycleway debate recently.

“This most recent campaign in Galway, there was quite aggressive tactics by some in the form of lobbying us for a particular vote.

“One particular instance I refer to is two voice messages from the same person on my phone to tell me that I will have failed as a parent – I’ve three young sons – I’m a failure as a father if I decide not to bring the cycleway into Salthill.”

Councillor Cubbard added that previously he would have encouraged young people to get involved in local politics and public life, but he is not so sure anymore.

“I had the great honour of being Mayor of our city for two years in succession recently and I travelled around to all the schools in our city, and I talked to young people in particular.

“The number of those who spoke to me and said that one day they would love to go forward and represent their community in local politics which was a fantastic thing to hear.

“I ask myself, fast forward two years later, would I be honest with myself if I said to those kids ‘put yourself forward; it’s rewarding’. Yes it is, but if this level of toxicity is to meet them at the door of politics, we have then failed them as local legislators and national legislators. We need to deal with this now.”

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