*Cllr PJ Kelly is raised aloft following his election in 2019. Photograph: Martin Connolly
CLARE’S longest-serving politician has confirmed he is bowing out of politics.
Cllr PJ Kelly (FF) was first elected to Clare County Council in 1974 and has prevailed in a total of nine local elections. He is one of three politicians in Ireland to have spent over fifty years on a County Council.
While he had expressed a desire to step down in advance of the 2019 local elections, efforts to secure a candidate in his native Lissycasey or surrounding parishes proved to be unsuccessful.
Kelly went on to be top the poll in the Kilrush local electoral area and for the first time in his political career he was elected on the first count.
“A time has come, I’ve fifty years done and am one of three in the country. It is time for new blood, I’ve been honoured to have survived fifty years. Five years down the road if I’m around I’ll be a very feeble person, I might be very sharp up here (the mind), physically I get around no problem at the moment. I did indicate at the last election that it would be my last, in fact I decided to pull out the last time but they surrounded me here and they said go, you could see the vote I got,” he said.
Moving on from a lifetime of politics will take adjusting, he acknowledged. “Naturally I will miss it but I’m trying to find a different occupation. I know I’ve an adjustment to do and I won’t sit on the fence crying”.
The Clare Echo will be carrying what is PJ’s most in-depth interview since announcing that he would not contest Fianna Fáil’s selection convention for the Kilrush local electoral area in this week’s paper and online for subscribers.
There are four nominees for this convention, Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF), Cllr Rita McInerney (FF) who only last month was co-opted to the County Council following the retirement of Cllr Bill Chambers (FF), Michael Shannon (FF) and Alan Troy (FF).
With the looming retirement of Cllr Kelly and the Council’s second longest serving representative Cllr Pat McMahon (FF) together with the departure of Cllr Chambers, it could pose a threat to Fianna Fáil retaining the highest amount of seats on the local authority. Despite the exit of the trio, PJ is adamant on what Fianna Fáil need to focus on. “I hope they will go back and focus on policy and implementation, follow the policy that is of benefit to the area, challenge the system, that to me would be very important to challenge the system because the system is beating us and there is no doubt in the world about it.
“There’s so many schools closed back the West, there is more and more but they are doing nothing about it, you can do cosmetic work and denude yourself into believing you are doing something but to get something done is another day’s work, how are we going to get people to settle in Cross, I’d say change the County Development Plan, forget the local rule, every civil servant that settles in West Clare should have no planning contribution instead of keeping them out, if we got 100 retired civil servants living in West Clare with 100 families what will it mean for the economy of West Clare, their sons and daughters might decide to move down, have a family and change the circle, intervention is going to be very important rather than tolerance. We have to replace tolerance with intervention”.
Positive discrimination is needed in this regard, he argued. “Through no fault or credit of mine, this place (Lissycasey) is on the way up. When I got elected in 1974, we had 570 people on a private water scheme, we’ve 1,240 today on the same network, it is going up, the school is exploding. Look at Doonbeg, there’s 50 odd in the school but we’ve 204 in Lissycasey. It is alright to be able to say we have a problem but it is only good when you can start solving it, I can’t see anybody coming up with an idea to revive West Clare, there would be a riot if we said let Dubs come down and build there but it is part of the solution. They haven’t to worry about a mortgage, if they sell a house in Dublin they could buy two in West Clare, I know a Dublin civil servant who can’t get planning permission in Doonbeg, he is on €106k a year, what would he mean to Doonbeg”.
Tackling this decline in West Clare must be the central focus for all candidates in the Kilrush and Ennistymon local electoral areas, Kelly insisted. “The challenge for our successors is how do they reverse the decline in West Clare, there is a massive challenge, standing idly by is not going to get you anywhere. A coffee shop was opened over the road here, it has taken off, there’s always three or four cars around it and that is to do with numbers. Before you stop a reverse, you have to come to a stop to go forward, you have to stop and then decide to change gears and move forward. Let’s throw the question to the candidates, what will West Clare look like in twenty years, it will be gone”.