IT'S just three years since Kerry native Seán Kelly was elected MEP for Ireland South and only last month he was selected as 'MEP of the Year for Research and Innovation'. Yet while the Fossa resident may spend the majority of his time in the decision-making chambers of Brussels or Strasbourg, he reveals that staying in touch with local news is paramount.
A fan of local newspapers and a lifetime reader of The Kerryman, he says the local publication has long been a family tradition.
"When I come home from Brussels, the first thing I pick up is The Kerryman," he states, adding: "I'd bring it over with me on a weekly basis and have it as bedtime reading - it helps maintain that link with the local community when you're away".
"It's been more than a newspaper, it's more like part of the family over the years. The Kerryman used to come out on a Thursday and you would be waiting avidly for it. It was the focus of local life as it summarised what was happening during the previous week and told you what was going to happen in the coming week and that's still the case today. The only difference is that it's now out on a Wednesday."
He predicts that, despite increased competition, local papers will always maintain their significance at local level.
"While other online media might become more popular, people will always want to collect The Kerryman. I can't see that changing, it's as essential as keeping in touch with your relatives or having a social life. I've seen that for thousands and thousands of people at home and abroad. There may be less local newspapers on the market these days but, once you reach the optimal level, they will survive the digital age and any other age," he states.
The former secondary teacher feels the reason for The Kerryman's popularity is the fact that it's more than just a point of reference.
"When I read through The Kerryman every week, I feel its sense of values have never changed. Obviously, it has to be independent and when something goes wrong it has to report that but there's no agenda other than reflecting and informing the readers of what's happening in their local area, whether that be sporting events, charitable events, fishing or farming or otherwise."
As former President of the GAA and Executive Chairman of The Irish Institute of Sport, he says he's torn between the front and back pages but it's another section that also grabs his attention.
"I'd look at the front page, then the back page and then go in reverse, checking for match reports, particularly to look for my own club," he states.
"Then there's The Kerryman's local notes, I remember reading them as a kid and I still read them. No one reads all their local notes but no one misses their own and I would religiously read my own Parishes of Fossa and Kilcummin and have a quick look through the others. That kind of local information is invaluable as you're bringing it down to the grass roots," he adds.
And he recalls a somewhat 'small matter' reported in the school's GAA pages almost two decades ago.
"I was training a team in St Brendan's some years ago and 'The Gooch' played one of his first matches for us. He scored something like 1-10 or 1-11 and it was reported in The Kerryman that this boy was going to be a star. That's where the local paper can be somewhat of a barometer, it creates a sense of awareness for everyone else."
As a schoolboy, Seán says that sport was always a passion and its something he developed in tandem with The Kerryman's coverage.
"As a kid and in my teenage years all I heard about in terms of sport was 'PF' - I never met him but he was the doyen of sports writers in The Kerryman. Then you had John Joe Brosnan who wrote from the Cork perspective, a very, very good writer whom I got to know afterwards and admired very much.
"After that there was John Barry and Eamon Horan, very different people but wonderful characters who understood what local reporting was about."
Now an MEP, he says that sports sometimes has to take a back seat.
"Nowadays I'd look first at sections such as agriculture, particularly as I'm in Europe. I read and learn from that and it gives you a feel about what's happening on the ground such as the reporting of prices at local marts, how things are going, that's invaluable information as you won't get that printed anywhere else."