As a difficult week for Fine Gael draws to a close, so too does the political year, with Westmeath County Council and Athlone and Mullingar town councils gearing up to elect new chairpersons.
The changeover will bring to an end the first year that all three local councils were headed up with Fine Gaelers, with Labour and Independent councillors to play a more prominent role in the coming year.
Current deputy mayor of Athlone, Independent Cllr Sheila Buckley-Byrne, is expected take the helm in Athlone, while Labour are to take control of both Westmeath County Council and Mullingar Town Council, with Cllrs Mick Dollard and Detty Cornally to slip into the respective hotseats in the coming weeks.
The new county cathaoirleach will receive the chain of office on Monday next, while the Athlone and Mullingar mayors will be sworn in on Monday July 5 and Tuesday next respectively.
When elected mayor of Athlone a year ago, Cllr Mark Cooney said he had a “challenging year ahead financially”. The cost involved in the clean-up after the winter’s flooding and the ongoing issues with healthcare in the town were some of the most challenging issues he faced, and he says his tenure as mayor has been “a year of highs and lows”.
“Some of the lows were the flooding, Loughloe House, and the whole issues of the provision of healthcare in Athlone. Highs have included some of the festivals coming to the town, like the triAthlone and the European Festival, and the many functions I attended over the year,” said Cllr Cooney.
“I am thinking about my parting words at the moment. The flooding was the most serious issue we faced this year, and the long-term consequences have to be looked at. This is something I will continue to look at.”
Meanwhile, his uncle, Cllr Fintan Cooney, is to step down on Monday as cathaoirleach of the county council. Reflecting yesterday on his time as cathaoirleach, he said that while it had been an “eventful year”, it had been a great honour to serve the people of Westmeath.
“I was fortunate that my start coincided with the move into the new county buildings, the first anniversary of which takes place on Friday [today]. The impression I get from staff is that this has been a marvellous success.
“The big areas to deal with this year were the dreadful flooding in the south of the county, and the severe freeze after Christmas. These put the council under severe strain, but the response of the staff has been wonderful. We stayed on budget and there were no compulsory redundancies, which is good news...All in all it was a gratifying year and I really enjoyed it.”