COUNCILLOR Pat Hayes, having now relinquished his role as mayor, is looking forward to getting back to the grassroots and throwing himself into community issues in East Clare.
He described the handover to the newly elected mayor as a “strange sort of a day”, one filled with “mixed emotions”.
“I have a great sense of pride, of having done my bit for my county and having given a year’s contribution to the promotion of the county and development of the county. I loved the job but the one regret I had in the last year was I hadn’t the personal time to be able to be in all the communities of East Clare,” Councillor Hayes outlined.
He believes a one-year term “is too short as mayor of a county” as there were a number of projects he instigated but will not now see to fruition as mayor. Councillor Hayes also said his role highlighted for him a number of deficiencies within communities and while he has made efforts to make improvements in his mayoral capacity, he said the one-year term is not long enough to fulfil all that is needed.
However, he said, “It has been a wonderful honour to represent the people of East Clare as their first citizen, particularly in my own parish of Killanena/Flagmount and the greater East Clare area and be in an ambassadorial role for this council.”
Having left school at 15-and-a-half without an Inter Cert, Councillor Hayes said it was an honour for him to be in the role and in a position to present All-Ireland Féile medals, one to his own daughter, and raise the Green Flag in Flagmount. He described these as wonderful days.
“The tremendous asset of this county is the people. My experience was positive and it gave me inspiration. I suppose one thing I want to say is being mayor of your county, you have to have a knowledge of all subjects. It is critically important. This year has been the best year’s education of my life. I have got a knowledge of the whole workings of the council and the other agencies. People don’t really know their own county and I learned that in volumes.
“A lot of people have asked me would I run for general election? I’d love to go further. If an opportunity comes up at national level, I would look forward to that. I’ll be keeping my options open for the future but some of the issues that are beginning to affect us into the future are the proposed boundary changes and increased quotas and that is a challenge because the recent census shows that nearly two-thirds of the county are living in the urban centres of Shannon, Newmarket-on-Fergus, Ennis and Quin. That becomes a real challenge for those in rural areas to meet the quotas,” Councillor Hayes commented.
While mayor, Councillor Hayes visited nearly every parish in the county and said he was delighted to support various fundraising and community initiatives. One organisation that had a real impact on him was the Wheelchair Association and after attending their annual general meeting, he became a member of the organisation.
“I just realised that it is easy to make nice political statements but statements are no good without actions and we need to address issues around infrastructure and disability issues. We need to try and make sure that we actually do what it says on the can and we implement it at ground level. The amount of people that find inaccessibility around our county town and across the county and issues around disabled parking has really been brought home to me and needs to be addressed,” he said.
“This year, we have had some wonderful projects – the Loop Head project, the Geopark status for the Burren and Cliffs of Moher – but meeting the real heart and soul of this county was really my passion. I really enjoyed that, be it meeting the immigrant community here, the carers and the Samaritans. I also visited Milford Hospice, the Kidney Association and because of my ill health in the past in relation to my heart and cancer, I was delighted to lend my support to any campaign and I will continue to do that,” he said.
He was also moved by the number of family carers in the county and described them as “the real stars of this county”.
Now that his term has come to an end, Councillor Hayes said he is happy to focus on and address critical issues in East Clare.
“With the loss of Finsa in Scariff and the loss of jobs and the unfortunate amount of people who have emigrated out of East Clare, I was looking for a taskforce to be set up but the agencies have said they would like to deal with it as a countywide issue. I think, particularly in East Clare, the loss of jobs that haven’t been replaced is a big worry to us all and it is also a big worry to hurling and rugby teams, who are suffering and struggling to survive.
“There is a great opportunity in relation to tourism in East Clare. I see great opportunity for walking, for cultural tourism and I see the whole Lough Derg region having the potential to become a Geopark or something like that, linking up with the Aughty region. It is a unique landscape and it hasn’t been developed at all.
“I feel as mayor I’ve done my best, and I hope I’ve done my county proud,” he concluded.