Mick Dollard, poll-topping Labour councillor for the Mullingar East ward and 25-year veteran of local politics, was elected unopposed to the position of cathaoirleach of Westmeath County Council for the second time in his career at its AGM this week (June 21 ).
The position of his deputy, or leas-cathaoirleach, was taken up by relative newcomer Gabrielle McFadden (FG ) from Athlone, who has been on the council for just 12 months.
Both councillors took up their positions as part of the power-sharing pact agreed between Labour and Fine Gael after the election in June 2009 to rotate possession of the chairmanship.
Manfully accepting the status quo, senior Fianna Fail councillor, Paddy Hill quipped that though he was “not very good at maths”, he accepted his party “didn’t have the numbers” to contest this arrangement and allowed the nominations of Cllrs Dollard and McFadden to go unchallenged.
Cllr Dollard, who last occupied the cathaoirleach’s role only three years ago, was nominated by his party and ward colleague, Cllr Denis Leonard, who praised his “fairness and equality” and his “tireless work towards social inclusion”.
Accepting the honour, Cllr Dollard said he didn’t expect the next 12 months would be as busy as his previous tenure in 2007-08.
“I don’t like to see politics discussed in the chamber, and I’d ask you to leave the politics outside,” he said.
“If we have to, we can do it outside or in the party rooms.”
Cllr Dollard spoke about the importance of attracting new business and investment to the county.
“Hopefully, if there’s merit in it [an application to start up], the Executive may look favourably on it,” he said.
“My only regret is we don’t have the same powers at local government as they do in the UK and mainland Europe. I also feel education and healthcare should be brought more under the umbrella of local government.”
Outgoing cathaoirleach, the patrician Fintan Cooney, brought the house down when, after tributes to his tenure were paid by Cllrs Peter Burke, Robert Troy, Denis Leonard, and county manager, Danny McLoughlin, replied with a twinkle: “It’s all true”.
Cllr McFadden, who received her chain of office from the outgoing Cllr Dan McCarthy, had a little catch in her voice accepting the honour when she said: “My father will be very proud”.
Her dad, Brendan, is himself a former councillor and founder of the McFadden political dynasty in south Westmeath. Her sister is Senator Nicky McFadden.