High security at Fianna Fail think-in as gardai braced for big protests

Kevin Doyle

A GALWAY hotel was under lockdown today as the country's least popular politicians arrived for two days of thinking.

A ring of steel was in place around the four-star hotel where the annual Fianna Fail think-in began today.

Senior gardai warned management at the Ardilaun Hotel, near Salthill, that they would have to effectively close its grounds to everyone except TDs and senators from the Government party.


Even hotel regulars and gym members were being turned away today amid fears that somebody might try to attack Taoiseach Brian Cowen or one of his ministers.

It is expected that some protesters will arrive at the conference venue over the next two days but gardai are hopeful that there won't be a repeat of the scenes that marred last year's event.

Then, riot police had to stave off hundreds of angry farmers who attempted to storm a hotel in Athlone, Co Westmeath.

Managers at the Ardilaun told the Herald that it was off limits to the public "under the direction and advice of senior gardai for safety and security reasons".

"We have a very good and loyal relationship with our Ardilaun Leisure Club members many of whom have been a member for a decade or more.

"We notified all members of the club over three weeks ago by email, text and posters in the club and members have been very understanding and co-operative which we appreciate," said a spokesperson.

Fianna Fail sources admit that with the Anglo Irish Bank scandal still dominating the headlines there is no guarantee that a significant number of protesters won't arrive in Galway.

The hotel is entirely booked out by Fianna Fail for tonight but many parliamentary party members decided to travel to Galway a day early, meaning there were no rooms available to the general public last night either.

The Ardilaun boasts of "a tranquil setting, beautifully landscaped gardens, a superb leisure centre with 18m swimming pool and the latest gym technology".


Its website claims that Galway hotels "don't come any better".

Last year there were scenes of utter chaos at the Hudson Bay Hotel in Athlone when an angry mob attempted to storm the building. Riot squad gardai had to protect Mr Cowen and the Cabinet as the protesting farmers tried to rush their hotel.

More than 70 gardai struggled to hold back around 400 protesters who broke through security barriers.