Cllr Michael Fitzgerald has been elected as chairman of South Tipperary County Council for the coming year, taking the helm of the local authority for an unprecedented third term in ‘modern times.’
Cllr Fitzgerald, who was unanimously elected to the position by his fellow councillors on Monday, declared that the coming 12 months would see the most difficult of economic circumstances but urged people to look past the ‘doom and gloom’ and help themselves and their own communities
He previously held the position of County Council chairman in 1992 and 2002.
Accepting the chain of office Cllr FItzgerald said it was an honour to be elected unanimously and he thanked his fellow councillors for backing him.
The role of chairman has changed enormously since he held it on previous occasions, the new chairman said. The coming year will bring the most difficult of all economic circumstances, he said, but he promised to try to protect as far as possible the income of the council. “We in South Tipperary have been prudent over the years, we have invested in social, cultural and physical infrastructure and services,” he said. The county will be ready for the economic upturn when it eventually comes.
The investment in the Ballingarrane estate is an example of this, he pointed out, adding that the link recently made between the TI and LIT was an exciting one.
To the departing chairman, Cll Sean McCarthy, Cllr Fitzgerald said he had approached matters in a positive way during a challenging year. He said if he can face matters in a similar positive manner then he will be contributing something.
“I come from a rural background and I have worked closely with those facing challenges. I see first hand the problems and also the initiatives.” Quoting from the address of actor Brendan Gleeson during the visit of President Barack Obama, Cllr Fitzgerlad said: “I’m sick and tired of looking at the ground. It’s time to look ahead to get out of this dark place.”
Cllr Fitzgerald said: “People are sick and tired of hearing about doom and gloom. They are prepared now to help themselves.” He said places like country graveyards no longer had FAS workers tending them and local people were taking up the work. “I hope, in my year, to honour people working so hard in towns and villages.”
Another aspect of his year ahead will be to try and address the “crippling” rates on businesses, he said. The matter is currently being looked at by a special policy committee and Cllr Fitzgerald said he hopes the committee will report before the December budget.
“We can’t just sit here. We also need the help of the national government,” he added, saying there also needs to be a better relationship between national and local government.
Cllr Fitzgerald said it was now 32 years since he was first elected to the county council and he is looking forward to the challenge of the coming year.
Cllr Fitzgerald was nominated by Cllr Liam Ahern and seconded by Cllr Michael Murphy. Cllr Murphy was elected vice-chairman in a surprise head-to-head vote against Clrl Eddie O’Meara. Standing in opposition to a Fianna Fail-Fine Gael pact, independent Cllr Denis Leahy proposed Cllr O’Meara who was seconded by former Fianna Fail and now independent Cllr Richie Molloy.
In a vote Cllr Murphy was supported by Cllrs Acheson, Ahern, Ambrose, Anglim, Brennan, Cooney Sheehan, Crosse, Donovan, Fahey, Hanna Hourigan, McCarthy, McLaughlin, Marie Murphy, Michael Murphy, O’Brien and Fitzgerald. Cllr O’Meara was supported by Cllrs English, Leahy, Lonergan, Molloy, O’Meara, Ryan, Shore and Wood.
Cllr O’Meara said it had been an “exercise in democracy” and he said all councillors should have “reasonable representation” which they do not have right now.
Cllr Murphy said he looks forward to the challenges and rewards of the year and will face them all with energy, enthusiasm and determination.
The outgoing chairman was Cllr Sean McCarthy. He thanked his family, and especially his wife Mary Jo, for their support during the year. He also thanked the council staff and his fellow councillors for their cooperation on important issues and quipped they “didn’t have one decent row in the whole year.”
Cllr McCarthy said he had some great memories of his year as chairman: winning the All Ireland and the “marvellous” joint county councils civic reception for the hurling team held in Bru Boru; welcoming Queen Elizabeth II to Cashel was also a great occasion and a huge boost to the country, county and the people of Cashel.
Cllr McCarthy paid tribute to the work of the staff in the roads and water sections of the council, especially the challenges they faced during the bad winter weather. Other notable events during his year was the start of work at the Clonmel civic amenity site and the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the TI and LIT.
Tributes were paid to the outgoing chairman by a representative of each political party and the independent councillors, and they also welcomed the election of the new chairman and his vice-chairman.