From Pierce to Pearce

Handing over the chain — Mayor Noel Larkin cngratulates new mayor Pearse Flannery. Pic: Andrew Downes

Handing over the chain — Mayor Noel Larkin cngratulates new mayor Pearse Flannery. Pic: Andrew Downes

The world has changed a bit since the first time that Galway had a mayor named Pierce.

When Pierce Lynch became mayor in 1485, he was to be followed by eighty-two members of his family, an act of political nepotism that would be hard to surpass even these days.

Last Friday evening, the city elected its latest Pearce, when Cllr Pearce Flannery took the chain of office for the next 12 months. His elevation as mayor is no surprise given the drive he has shown in his business career so far,

“As I sat down for Christmas dinner with my family in 2013 I had never even contemplated running for public office. I was not involved in public life and I felt my personal plans, my family, and business life were in no way conducive to holding any public position. I was approached to run for the local elections in spring 2014 and now here in 2017 I am speaking to you as mayor. So life is a funny thing. It can bring on both the good and the bad, quickly and unexpectedly. Being elected Mayor of Galway most certainly lies in the good column.

“It is an exciting time to be Mayor of Galway. The first mayor of Galway in 1485 was also named Pierce, Pierce Lynch and over the 532 years since, the seat has been filled by many illustrious and impressive individuals. But today, I can say with confidence, that in those 532 years, not one of them has had to take this seat at such a wonderfully exciting time,” he said this week.

Exciting

And it is true — Mayor Flannery’s term comes at a time when the city is on the brink of great things. The imminent decisions on infrastructure, renewal of empty spaces, the development of the Port, the determination that Galway will be at the heart of culture for this century. All of these things are happening at this juncture. He feels, like I do, that the next few years are kept for the city if it is to maximise its potential and create a working and living space that will enable it to become inclusive, navigable, and a joy to live in.

He feels too that the efficiency of the council meetings has to improve if key decisions are to be made and not become bogged down in lengthy debates about minutes of previous meetings going back months. He tells me that he is looking at ways through which they can be expedited, so that meetings are productive and accessible and transparent.

“At that time I made very few promises. I did promise to work hard, on behalf of the people of Galway with honour, commitment and integrity. Now as Mayor I am making the same promise. I have always been conscious of the importance of openness and transparency in all of our dealings. As Mayor I aim to facilitate bringing the activities and operations of our council as far into the public domain as possible,” he said, referring to the possibility of the meetings being streamed live online. He is aware though that this can also increase the platform for individuals to showboat, but that it may be self-regulating.

“To me it is essential that the people who elected us are able to see and partake in the activities of effective local Government and fair and balanced public representation. In this regard during my year in office I intend to meet with a variety of representative bodies, schools and community groups to ensure more engagement between local Government and the community that elected us.

“I feel we should always attempt to engage with those that are willing to engage with us so long as we all follow the correct procedures and process in doing so.

“It is not and should not be within the remit of any representative body or interest group to subvert established procedures or bypass protocols and rules in order to impose their demands be heard. At the end of the day we represent all people and not just those who shout loudest,” he said, with a passing reference to the scenes at last week’s Council meeting when proceedings were disrupted by protesters.

Meetings at NUI Galway

He paid tribute to NUI Galway and GMIT and revealed that he hopes to bring Council meetings to alternate venues. “Subject to the agreement of council I have tentatively discussed with Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway that we would hold one meeting per annum hosted by the university.

“This annual meeting will I hope further cement the hugely important relationship between the University and Galway as a university city, between town and gown. These institutions and others have for many years contributed handsomely to Galway City’s development and are a key variable in its success.

“I believe it is imperative that Galway City Council and institutions such as these continue to work together to achieve our collective aims, as these aims are inextricably linked. As Mayor I hope to continue to forge these links and continue to build on a long tradition of mutual cooperation and reliance.”

“It is hard to speak about openness and transparency in public office without acknowledging our own responsibilities and obligations.There are certain responsibilities and obligations on elected public representatives that they must observe and be seen to observe. Failure to do so may result in sanction from the authorities, from the general public and certainly from our friends in our local media.

“However, just as we as elected members have our responsibilities, so too do those tasked with reporting on our activities both inside and outside this chamber.

Certainly in Galway, we are lucky that in the main, we are blessed with representatives of the local media who are balanced and objective; they are competent professionals who serve the public interest diligently with integrity and balance,” he said.

Chamber behaviour

“As for ourselves, I have great respect for this council, for its executive and for its elected members. I acknowledge that from time to time we as councillors may fail to achieve our usual high standards in the manner and quality of debate within this chamber. It is my experience that when the quality of debate fails somewhat, its demise is often driven by a passion and a determination to ensure that the voices of the electorate are heard. This is not necessarily a bad thing in an elected officer,” he said.

“But playing politics, personal vendettas or petty bickering is not something we should engage in or accept. It is my goal, as chair of the council meetings to find that balance that ensures that voices are heard, that meetings are both productive and effective, and that at all times the public interest is best served.

“As a businessman and as a ratepayer in my private life, I am acutely aware that it is both the ratepayer and tax payer that funds the activities of local Government. Just as the business community has certain obligations to us, I feel we in turn have obligations to the business community. At Galway City Council we can do more to continue to forge business relationships, facilitate economic growth and develop alliances with the business community. Alliances such as this will enhance Galway life in all of its forms,” he added.

Mayor Flannery will be ably supported this year by Dep Mayor, Cllr Mike Cubbard and he paid tribute to Cllr Cubbard and his willingness to share the challenging task of being mayor for a busy city.

He went on to pay tribute to his family for their backing— to his wife Órla, and children Eoghan, Meabh and Daithí, and to extended family and friends for their support and friendship, not just today but over many years.

He said that he hopes that in a year’s time, he will be able to look back and say that he has contributed handsomely to the ideals and the objectives of a new Galway.

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