Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Toireasa Ni Fhearaiosa acceptance speech as Mayor of Kerry

29 June, 2005

Comharleoiri, Teachta daila, Ball do pharlimite na heorpa, a dhaoine usaile. Is cuis onoir e domsa agus do mo phairti an phost seo, maoire do chontae chiarrai, a fhailt agus go bhfios dom niorbh an onor seo ag mo pahirti riamh. Dar nogh caithfhinn buiochas a gabhail le na comhairleoiri a thug tacaiocht dom innu, go haraithe mo comraid, Robert, agus ba mhaith liom comhgairdeachas a gabhail le Ned as an bhliain dearfach agus eifeachtach a chaith seisen mar caothaoirligh.

At the beginning of his term Ned pledged to try and control and reduce the length of our meetings and he must be congratulated for his success in that regard. I would also like to thank Brendan Cronin for putting his name forward today and ensuring there was an election for this position. To the executive and entire staff of this authority I must sincerely thank all of you for your co-operation and assistance over the last two years and I'm sure our strong working relationship will continue this year and into the future. To my colleagues here in the chamber, I am grateful to those of you who supported me today but I want to say to everyone that while I am a sinn fein councillor and proud to be so, from today until the end of this term I am first and foremost the cathaoirligh of this council, captain of your team, mayor for everybody associated with these chambers and council. I am young and have only been on this authority for two years so like all new members I have a lot to learn but I will do my best in everything that I do and am asking all of you for your support and co-operation. At the end of the day we are a team and in my time here I have been impressed by the unity of councillors on many issues. Issues relating to the environment, or increased funding for our roads, housing and other infrastructure, and I wish to pay tribute to everyone I have served with since I first became a Councillor.

There is no denying that for many years this county has been ignored by those with the power and the purse strings.

Not only are we as a local authority under funded, but so is our health service our hospitals and our schools.

We have all, at one stage or another, highlighted that Cancer is going undetected in men and women in Co. Kerry because successive governments have failed to provide screening programmes for our people. Now, as I speak, a petition with thousands of signatures is being handed over to the Health Minister, calling for the immediate extension of BreastCheck to Co. Kerry. I'm proud to be part of that campaign and I'm only sorry that I couldn't join them at Leinster House.

The decline of our rural communities has been discussed at length in this room. And in our presence today we have Phil Healy who, along with others in the IFA and other farming bodies, has worked with elected representatives of all political persuasions to try and maintain the existence of the family farm.

A further aspect where Kerry is being disregarded is the area of employment. Many areas in Kerry are now described as unemployment blackspots, reaching levels of 16% in a state that enjoys a 3% percent unemployment rate. This can't be right. We must and have asked why this is happening, but we're not getting any answers. We must continue to criticise the government and the IDA for failing to promote this county the same way as they promote other counties.

It seems that other counties are enjoying the benefits of investment, which in no way do we begrudge them, however we must demand fair treatment. Our tourist industry is suffering at the moment and there are a number of different explanations for this. I believe that it is only a blip on the map and that the tourists will return in greater numbers. However, if we are ever to achieve the high levels of success in this industry then we must ensure that our beaches, our beautiful mountains, our forests and our lakes are protected and preserved. It was only at this months meeting that we collectively highlighted our duty to ensure that our people have access to proper facilities, while at the same time protecting the natural and delicate beauty that we have to offer. We all agree that everything must be done to protect our environment for future generations to enjoy. We must act as models for our children leading by example, teaching them to care for and respect the environment around them. And I will do anything I can as Mayor to help in this respect. If it means that I have to visit every school in the county, then I will do that.

On a related point I would like to take this opportunity to urge the people of this county to use the local authority refuse collections and transfer stations available to them. We must protect and develop this service and our recycling facilities, as we have seen the devastating effects the loss of this public service has had on other counties. The importance of the waiver system for those most in need, such as non contributory pensioners and others on low incomes, cannot be emphasised enough. We cannot loose a public service which provides such a system. As a council I hope we will do all in our power to ensure that the service remains.

Apart from continuing to work on all the issues mentioned, as cathaoirligh I'd like, with your help, to bring my own ideas and a fresh approach to the duties of Mayor. Paramount among them is making this council more relevant and accessible to all sections of our community. We must ensure that this is a council of the people, all the people, and as mayor I am willing to lead that challenge. The first step in this approach of engaging the people of the county begins today.

I want to introduce a very special guest to you all, particularly to my fellow councillors. This young boy, Joseph Clifford, has been an incredible part of my life and that of my community and I want to share the miracle of his ability with you. Joseph was only two days old when his parents were told to leave him in the hospital as he was only expected to survive a few days, weeks at the most. Despite such overwhelming odds, his parents, Joey and Mary, proudly brought young Joseph home and last February he celebrated his eleventh birthday. Joseph is a fighter. He is a joy and an inspiration to all of us lucky enough to know him. But he is just one of many special people in this county whose needs are being ignored. Today on behalf of Kerry County Council I want to recognise and celebrate Joseph and all people with special needs as the precious assets to our communities that they are.

Equally we must acknowledge the invaluable contribution of his parents Mary and Joey, and the hundreds of Carers in this county. Despite the grave lack of resources available to them, they carry out their roles with little complaint.

For years, people with disabilities and special needs have been treated as a burden on society, not as equals. We, as a local government, can play a huge part to ensure that all our people are treated with equality and with fairness. We must set our standards at the highest level, so we cannot fail in our duty to represent all of the people. The Disability Bill is currently before President McAleese, who is deciding whether or not to refer it to the Supreme Court, is flawed and does not meet the needs and rights of people with disabilities. And this has been articulated by all disability organisations. This Bill must be brought back to the houses of the Oireachtas and rectified. And I know that we will use our influence to ensure that any Bill that passes into law must meet the needs of Joseph and others like him.

Another section of our society that have been let down in the past are our elderly people. I am delighted to welcome today Ms Ellen Rowan who is here representing the senior citizens of the county, and her colleague Mairead Fernane. Senior citizens like Ellen Rowan are the people who built this state and brought the Irish people through terrible times, through poverty and immigration, to what it is now. They deserve our absolute commitment to their rights and entitlements. Senior citizens have so much to offer and this was evident in last week's announcement for funding for community hospitals in both Tralee and Dingle. The endurance of the Tralee senior citizens action group, who deserve huge credit for the seven years they spent campaigning, has won through in the end, as has that of the Dingle campaign. Unfortunately some of those who initiated the campaign along with Ellen didn't live to see their dream realised. We remember them today and congratulate them along with Ellen and her colleagues. So on behalf of everyone here I congratulate you. Well done.

We also have in our presence Ahmed and Abosede Ojuolape and their young child who have come today on behalf of our non-national community in the county, you are both very welcome. You might be interested to know that there is a gentleman here today mentioned earlier, Phil Healy, who spent some time bringing cattle to your homeland, Africa, with Bothar some years ago. Only yesterday evening I listened to a report from Malawi on Radio 1 on the positive effects the work of Phil and Bothar has had on the lives of everyone they touched.

We also have Mary O'Brien representing our travelling community. Mary, who is a rapid representative in Tralee, has done tremendous work on behalf of her community. You are very welcome. If we are to aspire to an inclusive future for our society, inclusiveness in this chamber and others must play a major role.

We have three other guests who may also sit in council chambers one day and they are Shirley Somers of Killarney, Stacy O Sullivan of Castleisland and Ian o Donnell of Ballybunion all representing the KDYS. These three young people already have an avid interest in politics and have obviously demonstrated leadership qualities to their peers as they are Kerry's elected members of dail na nog. These young people are our future and should be nurtured and encouraged and viewed as our most valuable resource.

Unfortunately Shirley, Stacy and Ian seem to be the exceptions among their peers. All political parties recognise that many of our young people are not even exercising their right to vote and we must ask ourselves why. Perhaps we must share some of the responsibility.

There is immense pressure on young people today and the figures of tragedy associated with that are startling. None of us on our own have all the answers, but by reaching out, engaging with young people and more importantly listening to them, we can educate ourselves as to their needs. Hopefully today signals the beginning of a closer working relationship between youth organisations and this council. For my part, on behalf of Kerry CC, I intend to make myself available to go into any secondary school or youth organisation that so requests to speak and listen to our young people.

Even though the election of the youngest ever cathaoirligh in itself marks a change in Kerry politics, that change is all the more profound by having a female mayor for the 1st time ever and only the third female cathaoirligh. No longer can it be tolerable for women and young people to be disenfranchised from not only this local authority, but politics in general. Take a look around, and this is by no means a slight against any of my fellow councillors, but given that 51% of the population are female and with a substantial young population it is incredible that we have only three female councillors and only one member under the age of 30. However that tide is starting to turn, and another of our guests here today, Mary Lou MacDonald is a shinning example of a young successful female Irish politician. And I thank her for taking time out of her busy schedule to make it today. I think she is the first MEP to enter this chamber since I became a Councillor. But the Mary Lou's, the Norma Foleys, the Ann McEllistrim's and Toireasa Ni Fhearaíosa's of our political landscape need to be the norm rather than the exception, and its not only in the political arena that change needs to occur. If we look at the make up of the staff of this council, while there is a dominance of females in the offices of this building, with the exception of the county secretary, the entire executive is male. Maybe it won't be too long more before we have a female county manager, of course once our current manager is ready to retire that is!!

Even though it's unfortunate that we can't fit everybody into the chambers I am delighted that Kerry republicans have come out to share in this very special occasion. I would not be sitting here today were it not for all of you. While today may be a joyous occasion for me and my party, I am very conscious that there are people in this room who have given so much to their country and their beliefs, the same beliefs that I hold dear. I wish to acknowledge the role of Kerry republicans over the past 100 years, right up to those currently playing a leading role in the peace process.

To my own family - Both my Father and my uncle Brian have suffered cruelly at the hands of the state and my mother had ten years of a struggle to bring up six children alone and on a pittance. Were it not for many of the people here today, my grandmother amongst them, I'd say that those ten years could have been a whole lot worse. I'm sure that when travelling all day to visit our father, or when being dragged from our beds in the early hours of the morning during raids of our home, not one of the six of us ever imagined that we would be gathered here today. The only regret I have is that my granny Ferris, who endured so much due to her sons' beliefs, didn't live to witness this proud moment and others for our family.

To conclude, as I stated earlier despite my pride and loyalty to my family's history and struggle, and in that family I include my republican family, from this moment my priority will be to represent this council and this county, and I will do this to the best of my ability. However, as cathairleach or maoire, whatever people choose to call me, I will endeavour to build relations on an All-Ireland basis, between this council and our counterparts in the 6 counties. This I believe is the wish of not just republicans but the majority of the people of this county. We have seen in the recent past how Kerry as county, can help build relations between both traditions on our island. While the Jeannie Johnson had many flaws, it was a shinning example of how both protestant and catholic, north and south, can work together.

Again I want to emphasise the importance of making this local authority representative and accessible to all the people of our county and I ask my fellow councillors for their assistance and co-operation in realising this objective.

We will face many challenges over the next year, that of which I have no doubt. However, our focus must be on finding solutions for the challenges faced by the county by including and involving as many people as possible and by working together for the betterment of this fantastic county of ours.

Criochnoidh me leis na focail sin ach ta cupla rud bheag le reiteach againn sular theimid go dti gallys I gcoir beile brea.

Go raibh maith agat.

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