It may have looked like a normal council meeting back in Clonmel Town Hall last week, but it was where a new era of local politics commenced.
Local election poll topper Martin Lonergan (32) from Goatenbridge was elected mayor at the first annual meeting of the new Clonmel Borough District (Clonmel and Cahir), as part of a pact among the new entity’s four non-party members, and sole Sinn Fein representative.
Cllrs Andy Moloney, Pat English, Richie Molloy and Catherine Carey (SF) supported Cllr Lonergan in his bid to become first mayor of the historic new district council.
Each of these councillors will take the mayor’s seat for the lifetime of the council, in order of their election to Tipperary County Council last May.
With 1,748 first preference votes (as part of a team supported by Deputy Mattie McGrath, and including Cllr Richie Molloy), Cllr Lonergan was first to take the mayoral chains, and he will be followed by Cllrs Pat English, Andy Moloney, Catherine Carey and Richie Molloy.
This pact excludes the two sitting Fianna Fail councillors Siobhan Ambrose and Michael Anglim, and the Fine Gael duo of councillors Michael Murphy and Marie Murphy from being elected mayor.
Speaking to The Nationalist after his election, Mayor Lonergan said all five councillors would disagree on certain issues but would support each other for the mayoralty each year, to provide people with the change they sought.
“The people voted overwhelmingly in the local elections for change, particularly in the new municipal district of Clonmel, with their vote, so we want to facilitate that.”
He also said there would be no party whip system in place.
Cllr Lonergan spoke of the need to support the rural and urban communities they are now serving in the new district - both rural and urban.
“It is very important to get the life and soul back into the centre of our towns, particularly here in Clonmel, to help support small and medium businesses in the town, because at the end of the day they are the bedrock of our community, both rural and urban.
“It is very important that we don’t forget about the urban and rural mix that exists, I am now the mayor of Clonmel and Cahir together, it will take a little bit of getting used to it and there will be some teething problems, but I am looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
Lamenting the closure of the old Cahir Area Office, Erasmus Smith House (designed by John Nash), Mayor Lonergan said he would explore the possibility of opening ‘some sort of office’ in Cahir.
“It would be important for people in Cahir to have that connection with the new County Council, and certainly something I will be fighting for,” he said.
Nominated and seconded by Cllrs Andy Moloney and Pat English, Cllr Lonergan was victorious over Fianna Fáil Cllr Siobhan Ambrose, who was nominated and seconded by Cllrs Michael Anglim and Marie Murphy. Cllr English was elected unopposed as deputy mayor.
Tributes were paid by all councillors to Cllr Lonergan, whose family were present to witness his election.
Cllr Molloy said he was delighted that there was still a mayor of the new district council, in order to honour people and volunteers in the community.
Cllr Siobhan Ambrose congratulated Cllr Lonergan but reminded him that the mayor ‘has to be mutually respectful of other political persuasions’.
“Every mayor represents the people of Clonmel, and that is very important,” she said.
Cllr Moloney said he wanted to reassure Cllr Ambrose, that he had every faith that Cllr Lonergan would be neutral.
The decision to retain the title of mayor, and reject the title of chairperson, was proposed and seconded by Cllrs Pat English and Siobhan Ambrose.