Former Independent Deputy James Breen has been elected as the new Cathaoirleach of Clare County Council .
Councillor Breen, who was elected without any vote pledged “action and real leadership” as first citizen to drive economic development in the county at the authority’s annual general meeting on Friday.
“When I was elected a Dáil Deputy I remember saying that politically this wouldn’t be surpassed until today.
“I am proud to be the first man from Kilnamona to be elected as chairman of Clare County Council.
“I can think of no greater honour than to represent Clare people as cathaoirleach. When I look around the council chamber at former chairmen, it gives me a great sense of pride to be included amongst them,” he said.
Councillor Mary Howard was also elected to the position of deputy cathaoirleach without an election. Interestingly, the Fine Gael Councillor was also elected as deputy Mayor of Ennis at the annual general meeting of the Ennis Municipal District last week.
Councillor Breen, who previously represented Clare in Dáil Eireann from 2002 to 2007, was proposed by Councillor Michael Begley and seconded by Councillor Christy Curtin from the Independent Technical Group.
Councillor Begley described the new cathaoirleach as a “straight talker” and a “colourful character”, who would put his wealth of political experience over the last 30 years to very good use in his new role.
Councillor Curtin described Councillor Breen as a man who showed “great political courage” and upset people in the county by pursuing a good cause.
While Councillor Curtin recalled he often found himself at the other side of the debate when Councillor Breen was a member of Fianna Fáil before he left the party to contest the 2002 General Election as an independent, he said the new first citizen was always deeply committed to political causes.
Glowing tributes were paid by councillors to outgoing cathaoirleach, Councillor John Crowe and deputy cathaoirleach, Councillor Tony O’Brien.
Breen is second in line for the chain of office in the current council, after negotiations between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, the technical group made up of independents and Sinn Féin’s Mike McKee agreed to a sharing of the mayoral post during the life of the council.
Fianna Fáil councillors Bill Chambers and Tom McNamara will next fill the role, followed in the final year of the council by Independent Michael Begley. Interestingly, both James Breen and Michael Begley previously sat in the council chamber as Fianna Fáil members.
Councillor Breen, a former SIPTU shop steward during his working days in De Beers, first stood for the council in 1979 but was unsuccessful.
In 1985, he was first elected for the Miltown Malbay Electoral Area and was returned again to the council in 1991.
In 2000, the electoral areas were redrawn and the Miltown Malbay area was dissolved. As a result, Councillor Breen stood in the Ennis Electoral Area and was elected, 50 votes shy of topping the poll.
A year later, he left the Fianna Fáil party because of his frustration at the party’s policies on Ennis General Hospital, Shannon Airport, the development policies regarding the West of Ireland, employment and agriculture.
In February 2002, he stood and was elected to Dáil Éireann as an independent candidate, with 19.52% share of the vote and represented Clare in the 29th Dáil from 2002 to 2007.
Councillor Breen resigned his council seat because of the dual mandate but failed to be re-elected in the last two general elections.
But that wasn’t the end of his political career. Councillor Breen was re-elected to Clare County Council in 2009 and again in 2014.