Champion Chatter
Home » Breaking News » New cathaoirleach sets sights on big projects getting off ground
Killaloe councillor Tony O Brien, the newly elected Mayor Of Clare, pictured at Two Mile Gate. Photograph by John Kelly

New cathaoirleach sets sights on big projects getting off ground

Champion Chatter

REVITALISING Shannon Airport to ensure it becomes a key economic driver for Clare and the Mid-West is one of the key objectives for the new Clare County Council chairman, Councillor Tony O’Brien.

There have been calls for the election of a council representative to the Shannon Group, which the new first citizen believes should be seriously considered by the Department of Transport.

Councillor O’Brien, who became the first public representative from Killaloe, to be elected as council chairman has called for due diligence to be undertaken to ensure the terms and conditions of workers in Shannon Heritage sites are fully protected before the council’s proposed takeover is fully completed.

Stressing the need to improve co-operation with the University of Limerick, he said there is huge development potential on the 214 acres in South-East Clare if the new Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) can proceed as planned.

“I am humble enough to know that one person can’t deliver on my own. I will be relying on the council executive, staff and councillors to enhance a number of projects this year.”

In an interview with the Clare Champion, he said the appointed contractor for the new River Shannon Crossing, John Sisk wants to do the job once negotiations can be concluded concerning the impact of rising inflation on the cost of securing raw materials for the project.

It is understood the government is willing to pay 70% of the inflation increase from last August.

“I am assured no stone is being left unturned to facilitate the contractor going on site starting on this project in the coming weeks. I have asked our Oireachtas members to ensure that everything is done to progress this project.

“The importance of the new Killaloe Bridge and Bypass for East Clare can’t be overstated.”

Commenting on the traffic gridlock being caused by Blake’s Corner, the new chairman said this issue needs to be resolved as quickly as possible to eliminate the risk of a serious accident and to cater for the huge volumes of traffic using Ennistymon as a gateway to the Cliffs of Moher and attractions in North Clare.

Councillor O’Brien recalled he went into politics in 2004 to try and improve his local community and help organisations he was involved in.

“My focus entering politics was to try and enhance the community and groups. I joined Fianna Fáil as some of the people who asked me to get involved in politics were FF supporters.”

The 60-year-old father-of-two admitted that he had no ambitions at that stage to become council chairman.

Elected chairman of Smith O’Brien’s in 1997, he remained at the helm until 2008, took a short break and then volunteered as secretary from 2009 to 2020.

One of the founding members of the Killaloe Ballina Search and Recovery Unit in 2000, he still remains its chairman.

He recalled a lot of qualified people who were living locally passed on diving skills to other members up to a level that the Coast Guard recognised their expertise and some members decided to join the Coast Guard.

A few members of the Killaloe Ballina Search and Recovery Unit who couldn’t meet some of the Coast Guard’s criteria stayed on and are available for underwater search if needed.

He said some of these members continue to practice diving during the winter in the lake in the hope they will not be called.

Despite losing out in the Fianna Fáil Convention in Broadford in November 2003, he was subsequently added to the ticket after Cathal Crowe, Michael Begley and Pat O’Gorman, the outgoing chairman, were selected for the old Killaloe Electoral Area, which was a four-seater constituency.

In the May 2004 Local Elections, Councillor O’Brien, Pascal Fitzgerald, John “Mashen” McInerney and Cathal Crowe were elected after a complete change of local representatives.

At one stage, the returning officer told Councillor O’Brien he would be eliminated on the basis he was one vote behind Michael Begley.

However, following a recheck counters found a vote in Pascal Fitzgerald’s collection, leaving him tied with Michael Begley, but the Killaloe representative remained in the race before his eventual election as he had more first preferences.

If the former National Bus and Railway Union (NBRU) official wasn’t elected, he admitted that “who knows what cards life would have dealt him”.

“I worked very hard up to 2009 but I was still a bit naive politically. Maybe I should have promoted more of what I was doing. Following a change of the boundary, Scariff and Whitegate was included as the constituency went from a four-seater to a six seater.

“Michael Begley took my seat, Pat Burke, Joe Cooney, Pat Hayes, Cathal Crowe were elected. I kept working in the local community. In some ways, I was able to do more collectively for the local community because I wasn’t caught up with council duties.

“I got a lot of messages of goodwill after losing my seat from all over the constituency who didn’t vote because they thought I was safe. In 2014, I don’t think there was a doubt I would be re-elected. I got another strong vote in 2019.

“After the 2019 election, I felt I was one of the longest serving FF councillors and decided to throw my hat in the ring for the chairman’s position and was successful,” he recalled.

First elected as a member of the NBRU national executive representing supervisory staff in 2007, he was also a member of various union committees at local and national level for decades.

“In any walk of life you are dealing with the public, you learn a lot. No two situations will be the same. You learn how to deal with different things different ways.

About Dan Danaher

Check Also

One Clare girl’s campaign to save the world

A ONE-girl crusade to help save the planet is taking place in Clare with young …