Mayo hotel defends demand for cash from media at count centre
Published 05/03/2016 | 02:30
Print media covering the election count in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's home town of Castlebar were charged €75 a day towards the cost of 'security' at the venue.
Mayo's TF Royal hotel has defended requesting the fee, which secured access to a media gallery overlooking the count.
The media had been warned that they would not gain access to the gallery without making the payment.
Three Mayo newspapers had initially been told that they would be charged €900 to cover the event from an allocated section of the erected platform.
However, all three declined to pay.
The issue of charging media was raised with the local returning officer by a number of media outlets and local politicians.
One candidate hit out at the move, describing the charge as excessive.
"Print media have never been charged in the past for so-called security. This is an election count centre, it should be an open democratic process. I'm not happy that media were hit with such excessive charges," he added, asking not to be named.
Séamus Sutcliffe, chief executive of Royal Quarter, Castlebar, - the complex which includes Mayo Convention Centre and TF Royal Hotel - defended the charge, adding that it wasn't "a huge amount".
He said that while the lower floor of the convention centre, where the count took place, was free to all, chairs had to be removed from the second-tiered seated area and platforms put in for cameras.
"It took us about two days - it was a lot of work and a lot of expense. The building materials alone cost €2,000-3,000," he said.
"We also had 24-hour security on both doors - two men at €20 an hour each."
Mr Sutcliffe said journalists could leave their belongings, including laptops and bags, on the balcony, knowing that no one would touch them.
Cables, tables and wifi were included, he said, pointing out that RTÉ, TV3, MidWest Radio and Raidió na Gaeltachta also used the balcony.
"RTÉ would have been charged a reasonable amount of money for that," he said.
Mr Sutcliffe added: "The business down there has been in receivership since 2012. It's racked up serious losses over the last number of years. You can't sustain that type of thing."
Returning officer for Mayo, Fintan J Murphy, did not comment on the charge but insisted the main count area was free.
He said: "All media were welcome and ventured through all areas of the count centre."