Outgoing Westmeath County Council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Frankie Keena, noted his “honour” at being elected as the county’s ‘first citizen’, as he passed on the Mayor’s chain to Cllr Aengus O’Rourke following his term of office at the recent AGM of the local authority.
Elected as a public representative in 1995, the long serving Fianna Fáil councillor, embraced his year as Cathaoirleach attending numerous community functions, events and official openings as Covid-19 restrictions eased.
“I relished the opportunities to attend these activities as it is essential that we, as councillors,are able to witness first hand the excellent work carried out by our communities and to meet our constituents.
“There were days when I was hopping from one meeting to another which often went on to late in the evening. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all our communities for volunteering their time to enhance our county. Supporting communities is so close to my heart as a public representative and it is something that I will continue to do,” Cllr Keena stated
Notable events such as the unveiling of the Technological University of the Shannon (TUS ) in Athlone, ceremonies to mark the handing over of Custume Barracks to the Irish Army and the launch of the bike for scheme within the county were referenced as particular highlights by Cllr Keena during his term as Cathaoirleach.
“Additional highlights during my year as Cathaoirleach included the launch of the All Ireland Fleadh in Mullingar, the launch of the Town Centre First Initiative in Moate, the turning of sod for the new greenway bridge in Athone and the official opening of Athlone’s greenway extension. These four powerful projects have the potential to boost the economy in Westmeath.
“I had the honour of hosting a number of civic receptions for many of our marvellous GAA sporting teams who brought great honour to this county, while a formal occasion to mark the 70th anniversary of the RTE All Ireland Drama Festival was also a noteworthy function,” Cllr Keena enthused.
Noting his concerns for the future, Cllr Keena stated that the demand for both private and social housing continued to rise and necessitated pertinent focus from the local authority.
“The demand for both private and social housing is still increasing, but in saying this it is very important to give details of projected new local authority builds for this year as it is anticipated that there will be 39 new local authority houses completed in Athlone before the end of December.
“In total, over the coming four years, years there will be 540 units built by our local authority and in addition, subject to a major occurence, we are on target to complete 124 new houses for Mullingar, 24 for Kinnegad and six for Devlin. This gives a total of 193 new builds for the county which will be delivered by the conclusion of 2022.
“The low point however is that we need more and more housing as soon as possible. My heart goes out to the numerous families who regularly contact me looking for housing. The rising cost of inflation is having a major impact on new house builds. For example, in Athlone, the contractor building a 426 housing unit SHD development recently closed up the site due to the rising costs of construction materials. Any issue that slows up the building of housing after planning approval for both the private and public sectors is a low point for me.
“Recently, I was delighted to attend a contract signing for the retrofit of local authority homes in Battery Heights on the west side of Athlone. This is a pilot initiative and hopefully it will be rolled out to all our other houses in the county. It is a positive climate initiative action,” Cllr Keena asserted.
Concluding, the outgoing Cathaoirleach commended the cohesive working ethos of his fellow elected representatives and expressed his gratitude for their support during his term of office.
“It is important that I acknowledge, with thanks, the work of all my fellow elected members who continue to serve their respective constituents to the best of their ability,” Cllr Keena concluded.