In a country which has been eroded to its core with financial and political corruption, a tide of change to the current establishment is what many are seeking, and with local elections looming those who want to “challenge the status quo” may personify that symbol of change which encapsulates who the public want representing them. A change to the “same old crew” who have been in the council for years and “have little forward thinking” is something which Fine Gael Councillor Peter Flynn envisions as he begins his battle for a seat in the forthcoming elections.
The Westport based councillor, who described himself as one of the “dying few” of those born, bred, working, and living in the town, is married to Castlebar town clerk Marie Crowley and has for the past 20 years worked in one of the main enterprises which has contributed to the town’s progress, Allergan, where he holds the position as director financial share service centre for the corporation.
Having no previous history in party politics, Cllr Flynn embedded himself in local politics through his involvement in local community groups such as the harbour board and tidy towns committee; which eventually led him to being elected to the town council in 1999 where he undertook the role of Cathaoirleach in 2004/2005.
The councillor, who retained his seat in the town council, claims that the biggest success story for the town council during his years being involved was the development of the affordable housing units at Pairc na Coille which paved the way for other such successful developments, allowing “young people to get on the property ladder”. This issue is still among the councillor’s objectives; he feels that access to purchasing homes for those on a €20k to €30k income is something which is still not properly catered for in Ireland.
Alongside the Pairc na Coille scheme, Cllr Flynn applauded the continuous success of Westport in winning Tidy Towns awards and also the town’s achievement in receiving a gold medal at the European Entente Floral Competition in 2004, while Cllr Flynn was Cathaoirleach.
Local authority are ‘slow to change’
“Formulating policy and enacting change” is something which Cllr Flynn, who is a member of Cultural, Heritage and Corporate Affairs SPC of Mayo County Council, is fervent about. However, even though SPCs were established to be the core of policy making, Cllr Flynn noted that it soon became clear that with “the layers of bureaucracy” and ratification needed to implement change and as well as local authorities being “slow to change”, in continuing “to do the same thing” over again, it would take time for new policies to come to the fore.
However, since his time on the cultural SPC, Cllr Flynn lauded the success as regards some policies adopted such as the walking initiative in the county and the current formulation of a customer care charter for Mayo County Council.
One item which remains on the SPC’s agenda and which Cllr Flynn hopes will come to fruition is that there will be a restoration of the Westport to Achill railway line for both tourism and leisure potential.
If he had a wish list this railway line would be restored with either a steam train — something which the councillor compared to a tourist attraction he saw during a sojourn in South Africa where he saw the local economy capitalise on it — or walkway and cycle lines.
According to the councillor even though Mayo has natural beauty and amenities there is nothing that “jumps out” to attract masses of tourists to the region. However, he believes that if the railway line is restored that this would draw tourists to the area through the “capturing of their imagination” and enhance both the Westport and Achill areas. On a broader note, Cllr Flynn notes that continuing to develop tourism in the county bears huge potential, especially through the identification of a “niche market”.
‘Bogged down in bureaucracy’
Almost 10 years since his foray into local politics, Cllr Flynn is once again contesting the local elections this summer. Even with his current delight in getting a nomination, the Fine Gael candidate is well aware that it will be “tough to win a seat”, but remains “optimistic” as, like his colleagues, he is entering this election in “very different times”, times in which “there is a need to look at where we go in terms of the country’s future”, with everyone asking, “Where do we go next?”
This is where a challenge to the status quo is needed; the “questioning of how the whole operation works” — something which he, alongside Westport Town Council, has done over the past few years in “pushing Peter Hynes and his crew” to re-examine the numbers and keep the rate increase in Westport to a minimal level, considering the rate of inflation.
Reflecting on how Mayo needs to adapt to developing its future, Cllr Flynn acknowledges that the days of large businesses such as Allergan and Baxter coming into a town in Mayo are gone, as labour is outsourced to cheaper countries, but from his own perspective from working in the services sector, this is something which can be developed. “We have the people and capacity to provide services to the world from Westport.”
Cllr Flynn also reiterated the need to stop being “bogged down in bureaucracy”. “There needs to be a radical change to all the public sector” — acknowledging that the criticism is not towards the people working in this sector but at the system itself; and as the countdown to the election begins, this desire for a tide of change may assist this Westport man in securing a county council seat.