Sunday 17 November 2019

'It has been very difficult and emotional' - TD Martin Kenny says his family were left distressed after his car was set alight

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Mícheál Ó Scannáil and Cormac McQuinn

TD MARTIN Kenny said that his family were left "very distressed and worried" after his car was set alight in the early hours of Monday morning.

The Sinn Féin politician said that he awoke on Bank Holiday Monday to find his car a "ball of flames" at his Aughavas home, near Ballinamore in Co Leitrim

He said his wife and daughters were relieved to be safe after being shaken by the "traumatic" event.

"It has been eventful to say the least, and traumatic," he said on Ocean FM this morning.

"It's just crazy. I can't believe it. At about 2.15am on Monday I woke up and realised that there was something hissing and cracking outside so I phoned the fire brigade. They were here in about 20 minutes with the guards, and they put out the fire. I tried before that myself with the hose, but it was just a ball of flame."

The 48-year-old said that his family were traumatised by what appeared to be a targeted attack at him, which occurred just days after the TD for Sligo–Leitrim made an impassioned speech on asylum seekers in the Dáil last Thursday.

Mr Kenny said that he was just relieved that his family were safe.

"The car was parked about 14 feet from the front door," he said.

"It cracked the glass in the panel around the front door with the heat. It cracked one of the front windows as well. We're fortunate it wasn't closer to the house or there could have been more damage.

READ MORE: Paul Williams: 'This is an attempt to undermine our democracy and must be rooted out'

"But we are who we are. The Sergeant was here last night getting a statement and as he said, it's steel and glass and plastic - they're all replaceable.

"It has been very difficult and emotional. I have to say I'm very proud of my family. They were strong. My youngest is 15 and the oldest is 20 and we just closed the door and locked it and started watching a movie.

"One of my daughters said: 'Look Daddy, we're not one of the ones in a shipping container'. It just made me proud."

He said that following the incident they focused on trying to clean up the mess.

Stock photo
Stock photo

"Just yesterday we tried all day to get the practical things done - to just get the car and the reminder of it all gone - it was burnt to a shell. There was sheer panic in the house, my wife was obviously very distressed and worried," he said.

"So we had to clean away the street and get a power washer and wash the concrete. Looking at the floor of the house here it's still all covered in oil from our shoes."

The Sinn Féin representative for Sligo–Leitrim said that those involved in, what appeared to be a targeted attack, are a small minority and that he has no antipathy for even those in his community protesting against migrants in Ireland.

The 48-year-old was the victim of what appeared to be a targeted arson attack in the early hours of Monday morning after his car was left in a "ball of fire", following a Dáil speech last Thursday.

The speech addressed the deaths of 39 people in a refrigerated lorry container in England, while comparing it to Irish in coffin ships during the famine.

Mr Kenny added at the time: "Unfortunately, some people in this country peddle far-right ideology and may be happy that 39 fewer immigrants will be coming to Ireland potentially."

Mr Kenny said he received a death threat last week after he told the Dáil, in the debate on immigration, far-right speech and tone had "taken root among people who would otherwise be decent and reasonable".

READ MORE: 'Arson attack' at home of Sinn Féin TD condemned as 'sinister' and 'shocking'

He said he received the threats after expressing his support for a proposal to accommodate 130 asylum seekers in Ballinamore, which is also his main electoral support base.

The people of the town have been protesting against the proposed re-settlement on the grounds it is disproportionate to the town's population and infrastructure, and are prepared to welcome a smaller number.

The incident at this house, he said however, was carried out by a very small number of people. The Sinn Féin TD said that he has no animosity for those protesting in his locality.

"The threats online, that's been coming for a couple of weeks," he said.

"It's important to say that there is only one person, or a small group of people, who are responsible for what happened here the other night and that's the person who did it. They are the only ones responsible for that. I want to make that clear.

"The gardaí are doing an investigation into that and hopefully they come to the bottom of it and find out who they are. However, the situation in Ballinamore has turned into a very tense and difficult situation and to say it's regrettable is an understatement.

"I think that some people who were there and were leading the charge no this could have been a lot more responsible. That's for them to work out themselves but I have absolutely no ill will toward any people in Ballinamore," he said.

"I know they're decent , honest and reasonable people and some of the people who are there and choose to be on the protest, I know they're decent people."

Mr Kenny added that the situation in Ballinamore is "very tense and difficult" saying: "to say it’s regrettable is an understatement."

He argued that some people who have been "leading the charge on this could have been a lot more responsible".

He said the "handful of people who are at the head of that I think really need to look at what happens when you fire things up to a high level and what impact that has, the consequences which is beyond control.

"They’re not in control of that."

He said the consequences are from "other people who are crazy and go off and do crazy things".

Mr Kenny said: "We all have a responsibility to be reasonable and I think at the base of everything I do".

He said he tries to be a voice for people with disabilities and children with autism and locals who want to build houses in rural Leitrim.

"That attack on my car was not just about asylum seekers and stuff like that. It was about all of those things.

Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Picture: Tom Burke
Sinn Féin TD Martin Kenny. Picture: Tom Burke

"It’s an attack on everything I do.

"It’s an attack on all the good people out there who want a better society and I want to represent them."

Mr Kenny said: "I want to represent a better future."

He said Monday morning's incident "certainly makes it harder" to be a public representative, but added: "it’s not an option to change what I am or who I am".

Mr Kenny said: "I’ll continue to try and make a difference for people and to work for people".

He said he's received "huge support" since the attack outside his home.

"I’m not going to abandon what I see as a better Ireland and a different Ireland because I think we have the potential to be a magnificent country," he said.

In a statement, the Ballinamore Community Group said: "We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the news of criminal acts being perpetrated against Martin Kenny TD and his property.

"The demonstration in Ballinamore has been conducted in a peaceful and respectful manner and it is our firm commitment it will continue in the same way."

Gardaí are appealing to anyone who may have been in the area between 12 midnight and 3am on Monday morning to contact the Gardaí at Mohill on 071-9631002, the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda Station.

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