*Cllr Mike McKee
Mike McKee winning a seat on Clare County Council was the success story of the 2014 local elections, retaining it is now the challenge for the Shannon representative and his team of canvassers.
As Sinn Féin’s first representative on the Council since 1974, Mike’s election as given the part hope of increasing their presence on the local authority as they run candidates in four of the five electoral areas in the county. “You can never be too confident, what we do know is that we have good candidates in all of the constituencies. They are excellent candidates, working very hard in the community, obviously it’s hard to get elected but it won’t be from want of trying.
“They are a terrific team and they work harder I would say than most councillors or candidates because they are political activists all their lives, they may not have been candidates before or councillors but they sure have worked on campaigns, in community organisations and it’s always been part of Sinn Féin members’ ethos to be doing that from an early age. It was the same with myself, I was involved with the party from 16 onwards campaigning for different issues”.
During the 2014 campaign trail, he lobbied for the introduction of new rates in the Shannon Municipal District. Five years on, the issue of rates is still frustrating the Portadown born father of two. “We had the Oakwood Hotel which subsequently went into receivership and that was down to the overheads being too high and it was unfortunate that a hotel like the Oakwood was paying substantially more higher rates than an equivalent hotel in Ennis which gave them an unfair advantage. Since then, we’ve had the equalisation where rates have been equalised throughout the whole county and it was either increase the rates in Ennis or decrease the rates in Shannon, it was a toss up between the two and as we know now the rates were increased in Ennis.
“I do think the rates are archaic, the whole system needs to be changed for local authority funding. It goes back to the old British establishment where rates were introduced, more and more we’re coming to see that rates are not a fair way of getting money for the local authority, somehow or at some stage Central Government is going to have to come up with another idea of how local government is going to be financed because we can’t keep going with rates the way it is”.
A member of Shannon Town Council from 1985 to 2009, McKee’s final five years were as an Independent due to clashes with different personalities in the party at the time. “I retired from Sinn Féin in 2004 and I ran as an Independent and it was probably the worst five years of my life being an Independent councillor, it didn’t appeal to me. An Independent has to be a political animal, in a party it’s a team and it makes such a difference being in a party. The five years I spent as an Independent I hated it with a passion. I rejoined Sinn Féin around 2012 and I was back in the team that I grew up with since I was 16 years old, then I was the front runner for the County Council election being a sitting town councillor for many years, I was one of the longest serving Sinn Féin town councillors in the country up until I went Independent”.
His political comeback in 2014 came at the expense of sitting councillors Sean McLoughlin (FG) and Pascal Fitzgerald (LAB). McKee did not envisage returning to politics, a similar resurgence is badly needed for the town of Shannon in his opinion. “Shannon was developed around sixty years ago to compliment the airport and industrial estate. It was designed as a brand new town and in those days the planners looked at what it was mostly in need of and that was houses so they built housing estates and a small shopping centre in the Drumgeely part of Shannon which sufficed in the day but in current times it’s no longer sufficient nor is it sufficient to have a shopping centre in the heart of the commercial activity within the town. It closes at 8pm so in acutal effect after 8pm we don’t have any shops bar the small little corner shops, in reality we’re not a town in the normal explanation of what a town is about, we’re houses with a shopping centre what we badly need is the development of a streetscape to allow us have a street with shops at the bottom and apartments on the top the same as every other natural town in the country”.
“Illegal dumping is horrendous not just in Shannon, Clare but the whole country, for us in Shannon it is a big issue. We’re looking for the commercial centre of the town to be taken away from private enterprise and opened up for other commercial retailers to come into the town and we don’t believe that is going to be done until such time that we have a streetscape and the strangle is taken away from a private enterprise. We’re looking for affordable housing, too many people that we know are just over the limit to be able to avail of social housing but don’t have enough to qualify for a mortgage and there is serious problems in that grey area for the people stuck in the middle, they have to rent privately and there is no regulations governing the rental price and market which up to now the Government have used as the issue of social housing when they weren’t building social houses. Footpaths are crumbling away in Shannon, they need to be completely overhauled, anti-social behaviour more community policing and we’d be looking for The Venue we would love to see that happening in Shannon but we would need the support of the whole town to make it feasible”.
Presently, McKee is the only Clare councillor with a constituency office, something he maintained is very beneficial for people to drop into to highlight issues of concern. Already a confirmed candidate for the General Election, the owner of HT promotions will need to bounce over the line following Friday’s local election to boost any plans for higher office.
“I wouldn’t say the locals are a warm up, to me it would be the springboard. We have our constituency office and it’s probably the only constituency office that a councillor has in the whole of the country, I’m unaware of any other ones, there certainly is not too many. We have the office to allow people realise what it would be like to have a full time TD or Senator based in their town and it has great potential for the people of Shannon, it has opened up so many doors for those people. It is vitally important for us on the local authority to retain our seat but it would be a springboard to the General Election and if a TD was to be based in the Shannon area it would transform politics forever in the town and surrounding areas”.