CLARE HAS A NEW first citizen following the election of Cllr Joe Cooney (FG) as Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council, a title commonly known as the Mayor of Clare.
Predictions were made that Cllr Cooney would be welcoming the All-Ireland winning hurlers back to the county as jibes were thrown towards the Chief Executive of Clare County Council, Pat Dowling who is a native of Co Limerick at Friday’s AGM.
Indeed the attendance at the AGM was one of the largest to be held at Áras Contae an Chláir with local authority staff busily adding extra chairs around the Chamber and public gallery as family, friends and supporters of Cllr Cooney attended the occasion. Former TDs, Madeline Taylor-Quinn (FG), James Breen (IND) and Pat Breen (FG) were in the crowd along with Senator Timmy Dooley (FF).
O’Callaghans Mills man Cooney was elected unanimously to the role and becomes the first person since the late Sean Keating (FF) to have been both Mayor of Clare and Chairperson of Clare GAA. The Cross native who was laid to rest served as Mayor from 1985 to 1987. He succeeds Cllr Tony O’Brien (FF).
A poll-topper in the Killaloe MD for local elections in 2009, 2014 and 2019, Cllr Cooney also secured the highest vote in the county of all Clare councillors for three of his four runs for public office, he was first elected in the Scariff electoral area at the 2004 local elections.
Speaking at Friday’s AGM, Cllr Cooney paid tribute to his family, friends and invited guests for their support on his journey as an elected representative, “it gives me great pride to represent you all”. His wife Teresa was joined by their sons Conor and John at the AGM while Gerard was out of the country. “I am both delighted and honoured to have been elected Cathaoirelach of Clare County Council. It is a great honour to get the opportunity to represent the people of Clare as Cathaoirleach, I look forward to fulfilling those duties to the best of my ability, I will wear the title as a badge of honour,” he said.
He outlined, “We face many challenges as a Council, the day to day running and passing of the Budget will have implications and consequences for all citizens of our county, neither of those should be completed without the input of elected members, respect and compromise should be used all involved”.
Battles will occur within the Council Chamber he predicted but elected representatives, executive and staff “must be united to do our best for our county just like our great teams of players who represent Clare in different sports show unity as a team”.
On the issues he wants to bring to the forefront during his tenure, Cooney said he wants to see improvements to the infrastructure of rural communities right across Co Clare, “progress has been made in our towns and villages but I want to see further developments in the next twelve months to make them attractive places to work, live and visit”.
Holy Island/Inis Cealtra’s development was labelled as “vital” by Cllr Cooney. “This visitor experience is crucial to the further development of the tourism offering of East Clare and the Mid-West region”.
Progress is already visible on the Killaloe Bridge Crossing and Bypass, Cooney stated. “The sod has been turned and work is ongoing, we need to see works continue at pace to provide the vital link”.
Proposing his party colleague for the role, Cllr Pat Burke (FG) said he was honoured to get to nominate Cllr Cooney. “The hard-working poll topper, I could go on forever about his work rate in the Council and in construction, I don’t know how many hours he works a day, that is why he is so popular. Any of us hurling in East Clare knew Joe from his role hurling with the Mills and as Chairman”.
Burke recalled that in 2004 he was secretary in the Scariff area of Fine Gael and a constituency official had said they were not aware of Joe Cooney when he was first nominated for the local elections, they were quickly told the name would be known to them and not forgotten.
Whitegate native Burke said the working relationship between him and Cllr Cooney has been very pleasant. He noted he has benefited from many ‘number two’ votes off his colleague. “I went into a certain housing estate in 2009 and I was told there’s only one Joe Cooney by a group of children running towards me, I was told to relax that I’d get a handful of number twos which I’ve been reminded of in the public gallery”. He continued, “Joe is a great all-rounder, Joe can turn his hand to anything, farming might not have been his number one but when he told me one evening two months ago he was tagging calves and putting in bales of silage I said Jesus is there anything he can’t do”.
Joe’s popularity quickly became known when he ran for office in 2004, Cllr Pat Hayes (FF) observed when seconding his proposal as Cathaoirleach. “We knew and heard him from the sidelines, he was very much supporting the Mills and had many battles with opposing selectors, Joe’s commitment has brought him to where he is today, it is a very much important day and one for celebrations”. He continued, “he is a poll-topper across our District for many occasions, a man of the people and ever ready to take on anything”.
Adding his congratulations, Cllr Gerry Flynn (IND) commented, “Joe always answers his phone, if he doesn’t answer he comes back to it, he uses a common sense approach which is lacking a lot in local democracy, we have many debates about democracy and we know from RTÉ debacle that people want transparency”.
Shannon based Flynn believed it was only a stepping stone. “Your elevation to Chair is only a pre-cursor, I think you should be a next candidate for Dáil election”.
Long-serving Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) predicted that Cllr Cooney would be welcoming the All-Ireland winning team back to Co Clare and he went as far as to say they would defeat Limerick in Croke Park “by more than a single point”.
Ironically, it was another former high-ranking official in the world of Clare GAA elected as Leas Cathaoirleach. Former Chairman of the Clare Football Board, Cllr Gabriel Keating (FG) was backed wholeheartedly to take on the role.
Attending the meeting virtually, Cllr Joe Garrihy (FG) proposed Cllr Keating. “I’ve known Gabriel since the 1980s, he was involved as a leader of Clare football when it wasn’t a fashionable thing to do, you remember people who looked after you in your youth when you need advice and direction”. The Lisdoonvarna man said Gabriel “has a flamboyance and thinks outside the box”.
Seconding this proposal, Cllr Kelly agreed that Keating was “highly qualified” for the role. He said, “Gabriel and myself go back many years, we had a common agenda on a lot of things, he has wonderful work done in West Clare”.
Addressing the AGM, Cllr Keating acknowledged his friend Pat Breen “who walked me into this job fifteen years ago”. He quipped, “I’m not Cross but I’m from Cross, to those of you who haven’t been there, I’d like to invite you back to see what we have to offer”.
Responding to the predictions on where the Liam McCarthy Cup will be residing, Dowling remarked, “I’ll have an awful tough year ahead when Clare win the All-Ireland”. He told Cllr Cooney the local authority will be fully behind him and Cllr Keating in offering their support for the year ahead.
Noting the large crowd, Cllr Alan O’Callaghan (FF) commented, “there must be no one left in the Mills or Bodyke”. He said it was an achievement that Cllr Cooney was wearing a tie. “I came across a picture in the archives, Donald Trump came off the runway in Shannon Airport to fiddle players, harpists, dignitaries and who else but Joe Cooney, he didn’t wear a tie for Donald Trump so we’re privileged you are wearing one for us”.