As the dawning of a new year fast approaches, Athlone Town Mayor, Cllr Aengus O’Rourke, reflects upon an immensely trying and turbulent year during which the persistent presence of Covid-19 impacted upon all matters local community and will continue to do so during the initial months of 2021.
“This past year, one of sheer virus-related turbulence, has proved that any plans imagined with progress in mind, will be immensely affected. When a situation as drastic as a global pandemic is realised, expert opinion and progress is unfortunately curtailed.
“Quite frankly, no member of our local community could have predicted what was to be realised in 2020. Granted, we were aware of Covid-19 and the problems it was causing in Asia, little did we think it would cause such upheaval, upset and sadness here at home.
“Thankfully, vaccines that would normally take years to be developed, tested, refined and approved, are now available, affording a modicum of hope for the future, a mere year after the virus began its global journey,” Cllr O’Rourke asserted.
The Town Mayor is of the view that the future will bring forth more positive times with the imminent impact of the Covid-19 vaccinations affording due cause for optimism and a return to a semblance of community normality.
“Hopefully, as summer approaches, we will be in a much better place. Persons will feel safer, confidence will rise again and our post Covid ‘normal’ will begin to emerge.
“I have no doubt that our economy will bounce back too. This recovery will be due in no small way to the decisions taken by the previous and the present Government. They both did the right thing, by investing heavily and keeping our SME sector on life support they have put the economy on a good footing to recover quickly.
“However, there is no doubt that there will be a new mode of life for many, new habits have been formed as the virus impacted during the year.
“The volume of individuals now doing their shopping online has vastly increased this year. Also, working from home will be a new reality for many and one that will suit much of the workforce. We will be a lot more conscious of our personal space and undoubtedly, we will all have a greater awareness of good hygiene practices.
“However, I think the most significant detail to emerge from this pandemic will be a much greater appreciation for daily life, our health, our family, our friendships and this recalibration can only be a positive,” the Town Mayor continued.
Despite the presence of the pandemic, the Town Mayor noted that local authority meeting activities proceeded albeit in virtual mode as local elected representatives adapted to their new surrounds.
“In my role as Town Mayor since June, meetings have proceeded, many of which were courtesy of virtual platforms. The work has been progressing, individual representations have escalated with housing still the biggest issue for so many people. We still have over three hundred people on the Athlone District housing list. However, for the first time in many years I am optimistic that there is a good pipeline of houses coming on stream to meet all demands. From 2021 on, we will see big improvements in the area of housing.
“In my capacity as Town Mayor I would have normally been in attendance at numerous events on a daily basis, from opening art exhibitions, formally launching charity events and addressing a host of local community initiatives. Unfortunately, such occasions were all cancelled.
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“As the virus gripped our community, we were not in a position to host a St Patrick’s Day parade, the All-Ireland Drama Festival, Agricultural Show, TriAthlone, the list is endless. I sincerely hope that these and the many other events that were cancelled in 2020 will proceed in 2021.
“On a personal level, I was very disappointed to have to cancel my National Schools Debating competition this year. Now in its fourth year, the competition continues to have a positive impact on the local primary schools within our community. We had hosted the first round of debates across 14 schools when I had to make the decision to cancel the 2020 competition on the March 12, but all going well, I would be happy to run it again in 2021,” Cllr O’Rourke enthused.
The Town Mayor also afforded due praise to those who continue to serve the local community with great purpose and esteem.
“It is vitally important that we acknowledge our local members of the Defence Forces who are on duty overseas. They should know that we are grateful for the work that they do.
“I would also like to acknowledge those who keep our essential services in working order. To those on the frontline who are still working hard to protect us all in hospitals, nursing homes and residential centres, we very much appreciate what you do.
“I would like to extend much gratitude to the many volunteers in the Athlone area who give so much of their time and energy to this town. There are many examples of those who coach children at sports, pick litter, deliver dinners, sit on parish committees, raise money for good cause and so forth. Athlone is a better place in which to live because of selfless dedication to your town and to those less fortunate,” Cllr O’Rourke concluded.