“Before I ever tell anyone what I can do for them when they come to me with an issue, the first thing I do is let them know exactly what I can’t do. You have to be honest with people when they come to you with a problem, because even though you might have 20 other issues to deal with, the one they come to you with is the most important to them. And they are the ones who elected you to the council in the first place.” It’s a simple tenet, but it’s the one of the most important tenets of someone who is a public representative according to Ballina Town and County Councillor Johnny O’Malley. The Fianna Fail councillor has been elected to Ballina Town Council twice, first in 1999 and again in 2004, and then to Mayo County Council for the first time in the same year.
O’Malley had been a visible member of a number of different organisations in the area before he decided to throw his name into the political lion’s den and he doesn’t regret it at all. “I’d been involved for a number of years with the Friends of Liege, Ardnaree Sarsfields GAA club, the St Patrick’s Day parade, and through work I was a shop steward and on the national executive of the communication workers union for a number of years. So I suppose it was a natural progression for me to go into politics.” Having people coming up to him with problems is something that Johnny relishes, “look if you don’t want people to come up to you looking for advice or to see what their next step may be in solving a problem then you are in the wrong game. The people of Ballina have elected me so I’m here to do what I can for them. When I first got elected there were a number of issues in relation to housing, works on paths, roadways, and lighting that we have tried to address. A very basic but big sign of the development in the town was that in 1999 when I was running first there was a very big issue in relation to the lack of playgrounds in the town. The town park was a fine area for walking in but there was nowhere for the kids to play. But with the co-operation of Ballina Tidy Towns one was put in there, and now we are very close to the completion of five different playgrounds and parks in areas spread all over the town.”
Time to stick together
With economic doom and gloom being the talk of the nation, O’Malley sees this as a time for people to stick together and for Ballina to take on the challenges and grow. “There was a time before when there was no tourist organisation in the town, but thankfully that’has happened. Ballina and its hinterland has a huge tourist potential and we have to get very serious about promoting that out there both nationally and internationally. There are so many genuine tourist attractions that people would like to come and see, we just have to continue marketing the town and the area properly.” The retail sector is another area that O’Malley feels will see great growth that can help the town see off the economic bad times that are being forecast. “Ballina is in a great position, because unlike other towns we have protected the integrity of the heart of the town as a commercial centre. With continued improvements and developments Ballina can become a major commercial centre with the heart of the town beating in the middle of it. This can help produce more jobs in the area, that may be lost in other sectors. It’s going to be a challenging time for everyone but we all have to work together to get the best out of it.”
Knocking on doors
With the local elections now only a matter of months away, O’Malley knows that it’s not going to be easy knocking on doors as a elected member of the Government party at a time when their popularity is falling. “It’s going to be an uphill challenge as a Fianna Fáil councillor, but I hope that people will see me for what I have done for their area on a local level. I’ve done my best for the people that elected me and I’ll keep doing it. Hopefully they’ll see me for who I am and what I’ve done for them over the past number of years.”