The new Mayor Michael J Crowe is adamant that he can be a link between the city and the Government, advocating on the city’s behalf for funding and support, and ensuring that any sense of vibrancy does not desert Galway’s economic, cultural, and social life.
On Monday, Fianna Fáil councillor Crowe joined a long and distinguished line of Galwegians by becoming the Mayor of the city. The Bohermore man describes it as “humbling”, “a tremendous honour”, and he is “grateful for the opportunity to serve the people as mayor”.
Galway however is a very different place from when Mayor Crowe entered politics in 2004. Back then Galway, and Ireland, was in the midst of the economic boom and the seemingly unstoppable Celtic Tiger.
In 2010, the city has seen many businesses close and unemployment rise. The Galway City Council is owed €11 million in rates from last year; has had to make serious cutbacks to cover the lack of funding from the Government; and is enduring a cap on the appointment of extra staff. Is this really a good time to be mayor?
“I don’t think there is ever a bad time to be mayor,” Mayor Crowe tells me as we sit for the interview on a Wednesday morning. “Your worst day in power is still better than any day in opposition, but it is true, times are tough.
“However there are things happening that we can work on. There is the Smart Travel bid and funding is ringfenced for that. Our bid has worked well so far and hopefully when the announcements are made in mid-July we will be successful. There are things happening locally such as the Galway Arts Festival, and we are the ‘city of festivals’ and we have to do what ever we can to promote that.
“A new avenue has opened up for Galway recently in the area of water tourism and water sports with the Volvo Ocean Race and the Power Boat Race. The council can play a role here such as in ringfencing money for the Volvo race and while it is not until 2012, work to get the city ready for it has to start in January next year.”
Advocating for Galway
Fianna Fáil forms part of the ruling pact in City Hall and with a Fianna Fáil councillor as mayor, many will be hoping that this, plus Mayor Crowe’s good relationship with the party HQ, will provide him - along with his council colleagues Peter Keane and Ollie Crowe - a direct line to the Taoiseach and Government ministers, and put them in a position to be able to advocate for Galway.
“I think that is an important role that we have,” he says. “My colleagues and I will do all we can to bring the message to the Government and to secure funding for various projects. Already we advocate for Galway every day of the week. We have a good working relationship with Brian Cowen and Minister Éamon Ó Cuív and there are not many Fianna Fáil mayors in the country. That is an advantage we have over other councils.
“This week I was speaking to Minister Ó Cuív about the problems faced by self employed people in Galway. If a self employed person’s business goes bust they have no work and no entitlement to social welfare, despite their contribution to the economy through paying tax and VAT.
“Me and my colleagues made a presentation to Minister Ó Cuív on this and he listened and said he will make changes and I expect a pilot scheme for 3,000 self employed people, to get them on schemes, where they will be paid, will be announced soon. Things like this show the ministers are listening to us.”
However being part of a government also means ‘collective responsibility’ and toeing the party line, which can often see councillors having to bite their tongues or defend the indefensible. Given how disliked Cowen and how loathed his Government is, many might also conclude that Mayor Crowe and his colleagues will just be ‘Yes men’ and accept whatever Cowen tells them - regardless of whether it is good or bad for the city.
Mayor Crowe says this will not be the case: “There are decisions that are not popular and not easy but we will do what is right and if we believe that the Government is wrong we will not be afraid to say it.”
Galway is twinned with a number of cities, most of them are in the United States, but in recent years the city has been thinking outside the traditional Ireland-America box, and linked with towns in Canada and New Zealand, and most recently with Quingdao in China.
That relationship was formed during Cllr Declan McDonnell’s term as mayor, but Mayor Crowe believes it is significant and it is one he wants to take further.
“Quingdao opens up a whole new world to us and is an opportunity for Galway, and Ireland,” he says. “Developing a relationship with China is something we must do as they are a rising nation. I think we need to develop a pilot scheme to teach Chinese to students and give them a proper chance to learn the language. I believe the days of compulsory learning of French are over and that we need to look at Chinese.”
A major priority of Mayor Crowe’s year as ‘Galway’s first citizen’ will be in providing jobs for the city, a pressing concern in these economically depressed times.
“We are restricted in what we can do but it is important that the issue of jobs is constantly on the agenda,” he says. “I have met with a company which is interested in setting up in Galway and it could be good news. I cannot say more than that for now but I hope for a positive announcement sometime in July and as Mayor I will do all I can for one job as I will do for 50 or 500, and I will always promote Galway as it is a place people want to live and work in.”
That is Mayor Crowe the politician, but what of the mayor outside of his day job, when he is Mike Crowe to his friends and associates?
Mike is married to Sally for the last six years and together they have two children - Dáire and Róisin. He enjoys reading but admits that his taste in books is the same as his other consuming passion - politics.
“I’m currently reading Albert Reynolds’ autobiography and have just finished Renegade: The Making of a President by Richard Wolfe, about Barack Obama,” he says. “I think Obama’s story is incredible, and it could only have happened in America.”
His musical tastes include The Saw Doctors (“I’m an avid fan,” he declares ) and Michael Bublé, but aside from his family and politics, Mike Crowe is without question, a football man. He has been a follower of Manchester United since the 1980s and is the chair of Renmore Football Club. He was also director of Galway United in 2005-06.
“I played in Renmore as a junior,” he says. “I didn’t play very well! I still like to have a game though. I play five-a-side in Salthill-Devon and Mervue United two days a week so I hope I’ll be able to continue that.”
Mike is, not surprisingly, following the World Cup and was delighted on Tuesday when France were knocked. “I respect the French language and culture, and the French in all things, except football,” he says, still smarting from Thierry Henri’s handball in November. “They’re out and I hope England go out soon as well.”
So who does he think will win the trophy at the end of the tournament? “I think, and hope, it will be Argentina, but I fear Brazil.”