Dillon ready to make his mark in a new game

Fine Gael's Alan Dillon

Fine Gael's Alan Dillon

He's used to excelling on the football field, but for Alan Dillon, Saturday week will be a whole new ball game.

The Ballyheane native has been building up for this particular battle for a good while now and - and so far he's been enjoying it, he told the Mayo Advertiser when we met up with him in his office: "Absolutely, some conversations can be tough and you have to have a certain level of empathy for what people tell you on the doorsteps they are going through, but overall the people I meet are very receptive and warm and the reception so far is driving me on."

Dillon won the nomination some time ago from the Fine Gael grassroots in the county and it was the first step on a journey that sees him looking to take the next big leap when the votes are counted next Sunday. "Getting through the selection convention was an important political milestone for me, because people would have possibly had the perception that this fella is a candidate that came from obscurity and landed on the ticket - but I had to really convince the grassroots I was the man for the next stage of Fine Gael.

"That was something, that once I got the backing for from the people across Mayo and the Castlebar district, then it was a sign this was possible. From then on it was about being on the ground and building a campaign plan to go."

Opportunity meets timing for Dillon

With Enda Kenny stepping away from politics, the opening for a new Fine Gael candidate presented itself and Dillon decided the time was right for him to put himself forward to fill the gap in the county town. He told us: "I would have always been a Fine Gael member - not active, because sport was playing such a big part of my life. I think in this situation it was opportunity meets timing and I got the backing of my family and decided that there was a gap here in Mayo for a young person and a young voice.

"What CV do you need to be a public representative? What does Alan bring to the table? You say to yourself, 'I'm equally as good as the rest of them, I am educated, I have built a professional career for myself, become a family man'. My life has changed over the last month, which has been great, it opens your perspective too that you are not as inwardly focused, but also more importantly, life and family will always come first for me.

"This is a job and I am asking the electorate to come along with me, to give me the opportunity and I am not pursuing any personal goals here, I am here to work as a public representative and to work for people and to be committed to developing Mayo's potential across a variety of areas."

He feels he can help the people of Mayo with one big issue that has kept coming up on the doors: "The constant conversation is always job opportunities, we have seen since the recession that over the past decade we are slowly building our economy back and it it is trickling down to the west.

"Since 2016 we have seen the creation of sustainable jobs here in Mayo, but we need more and if we look at Meissner Filtration Products, the government policy to build the advanced factory and fill it, we need to start using these opportunities to build more here in Mayo. We have a lot of manufacturing jobs with great companies, the likes of Baxter, Allergan and Hollister, but we can diversify into services jobs like financial institutions, telecommunications, things like that.

"Broadband is fundamental into how we work and balancing our normal day-to-day life and working remotely; you see down in Cork that with Apple, 25 per cent of their empolyees work off-site. If we can build that infrastructure here in Mayo - and I have been talking to a couple of people who have their own groups, like grow remote - and even if we have places like hot desks, where people can come in from Turlough or Ballyvary and use these in a environment where you can express yourself and work with people of similar skills and experience."

Working on improving things all the time

Dillion is well aware that there are a number of things that haven't been addressed as well as people would have liked over the past nine years his party has been in government, but he believes he can play a part in getting them right if he gets elected by the people: "We are all aware of the issues in housing and there is no quick fix in this, it is disappointing to see the homeless figure and people in temporary accommodation and the kids in there. It is an issue and we need more construction workers to get it up and running, government policy has been working, it is challenging because of the amount of people who have been added to it.

"The health issue is there and there is recruitment for consultants, we need more nurses and doctors, in Mayo we have built five fantastic primary care centres but we need them up and running to take capacity off our A&E department in Mayo University Hospital. The roll-out of rural broadband is going to be huge, especially for a TD here in rural Mayo, to ensure those 36,000 homes get adequate broadband."

As for major developments he would like to focus on if the numbers stack up on polling day - there are a few Dillon outlined: "There is probably two, but we have the N5 road from Westport to Castlebar - to develop a regional growth centre here in Castlebar would be a massive benefit to the town, build a cluster here to attract the services jobs and the manufacturing jobs and use the strength of both towns - Castlebar has a business and a retail strength, Westport has tourism strength and others and we can build both together to compete with the likes of Sligo and Athlone; it can benefit the county and from then look at our satellite towns, keep improving the road network and we have investment on the road to Ballina.

"You look at the Western Rail Corridor trying to get a connection right down from Sligo to Limerick, having that train network, we saw the huge benefit of the train from Galway to Limerick and people are becoming more conscious of sustainability and using public transport, using that we can open up the western region."

Taking up the mantle

With Fine Gael holding a seat in Castlebar through two generations of the Kenny family for decades, Dillon is very pleased to have the backing of Enda Kenny in this election. He said: "The Kenny's have put their trust in me to continue their legacy and I understand the trust in my shoulders, it is humbling to get that and my job of work is to go out and convince the electorate I am the man to go out there and fill the shoes of a giant, not only of this county, but of this country.

"To get that endorsement is hugely important, he was 44 years in Dáil Eireann and did immense things to deliver to Mayo and maybe not promoted himself on the back of that delivery, but it is is something that people might forget, he became Taoiseach at probably the worst time and steered this country out of economic disaster to where we are one of the top-performing countries in Europe."

Come what may, when the final whistle is blown and the four seats handed out - this is a long term project for Dillon no matter what the result, he added: "If you win or lose you put yourself in the arena, for me it is about doing the very best you can. I know I'm a first-time candidate, but I'm in this for the long run - my focus is to keep the seat here in Castlebar and the team around me are very ambitious not to lose this seat."


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