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I just tried to do my best

Cllr Ken Farrell tells John Manning why he has decided to step down from Fingal County Council in June after 25 years as a public representative

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Retiring councillor Ken Farrell and Ina

Retiring councillor Ken Farrell and Ina

Ken Farrell with his supporters on announcing his retirement

Ken Farrell with his supporters on announcing his retirement

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Retiring councillor Ken Farrell and Ina

A legendary vote-getter, particularly on his home turf of Lusk, Ken Farrell is giving up one of the safest council seats in the county to retire at aged 65 and will step down from the council in June.

Ken's appeal to voters was always the same - he didn't make campaign promises and only committed to doing his best and he thinks that simple message allied with hard work and being visible and active in his community resulted in him topping the poll in the Balbriggan electoral area on three occasions.

Sitting down with the Fingal Independent to talk about his decision to retire and reflect on his long political career, the Labour councillor said he finally made the decision to retire, a year ago but only announced his decision publicly, last week.

He explained: 'I came to the decision a year ago. I had indicated to everybody at the last local elections that this would be my last term so everyone knew this would be my last five years. The main reason I'm going a year early is for health reasons. I have had one or two health issues and I felt I had to make a decision and stick by it. The job is an unnecessary stress on me now. I'll be 65 in June and I'm ready for another phase in my life and that's how I'm looking at it.

'It was a difficult decision to come to because I've been a public representative for so long and it's always a difficulty moving on from something you've done for so long and making a decision that's right.'

He was first elected to the then Dublin County Council in 1985 and served on that body and its successor, Fingal County Council until 1999 when he stepped away from politics. He would return to fight the 2004 local elections but lost out for the first and only time, mainly due to the transferring of much of his home turf to the Swords electoral area where he was less well known. In 2009, he regained his council seat and has retained it ever since. In total, he's served the guts of a quarter of a century as a councillor and he admits that leaving it behind will be tough.

Cllr Farrell said: 'There will be a huge vacuum in my life and I will miss the interaction with people. I will certainly miss that and I will miss being part of the vision that Fingal's management has for the council here. It has been an integral part of my life since 1985 and I will miss it.'

But the Labour councillor believes it's the right decision at the right time and he has concerns about the where the political discourse in the country is heading.

He explained: 'Politics has changed. I was always a one-to-one councillor, meeting people, knocking on doors and taking phone calls and calling to the house and that's all changed because of social media. I've tried to keep up with all of that but the one thing I dislike about it is that before you had a lot of genuine people coming to you and now the kind of social media you have involves people with a lot of 'nom de plume' names that you don't know and they can contact all the councillors and that's an easy thing to do, so that takes the personal aspect out of it for me.'

Cllr Farrell added: 'It's a different type of politics now. Up to five or ten years ago, most people had an element of respect for public representatives - now they don't. And I think it's social media that has dictated the way it's going and that's why I fear for calibre of people that are going to take up politics.'

He is worried about the online abuse often aimed at public representatives and he recalls a personal brush with that kind of attack. He said: 'I got very little online abuse, I was very lucky. But that was mainly because I don't really engage with it online. But the one thing that sticks in my mind in terms of online abuse is when there was a vote on water charges here in the council that was actually irrelevant.

'But I was in hospital after going through surgery and my family were very upset by statements that were made at the time saying I was lacking in courage because I didn't turn up. Anyone who knows me, knows that wouldn't be my style - I've never been afraid to say what I think. I found then that there was a bit of a gutter element out there and I didn't particularly like that.

'That tied in with people banging on the President's car and calling him a parasite and this type of thing. It's no wonder that we have so much disrespect from the younger generations now when they see their parents doing things like that.

'I was being labelled a coward and the one thing about is that I don't shirk from an argument. So that got to me and it got to my family and my fellow councillors that here I was, on my back in hospital and these people were calling me a coward.'

Cllr Farrell said he always put his community's interest, even if that meant diverting from party policy. He said: 'I always worked in the interests of the community first. I didn't digress from the party too much and I was very loyal to the Labour Party but there are certain things at local level that are separate from national policy. My success has been that I have always listened to the community.'

Looking back on the achievements as a public representative he is most proud of, Cllr Farrell cites projects like getting a new sports hall for the community off the ground at Lusk National School, seeing a new post-primary school get off the ground in the town and helping to drive the ambition of sports clubs in the community to create a new sports hub for the town which is now in the planning stages with council funding committed to the project.

But perhaps the most pleasing single project that is getting off the ground as Cllr Farrell spends his final months on the council, is the transformation of Ballleally Landfill into a beautiful new park, the first phase of which is due to open this summer.

Of that project he said: 'I was chairman of the Balleally Liaison Committee there and this facility that is planned there will be amazing and will attract people form all over, I think. It's an unusual type of amenity with adventure parks, hides, walks and cycle paths - it will be really something special.'

'That is the most beautiful site in Fingal. It's absolutely magnificent and to see something that was always such a negative in the community, becoming something positive is great and I was glad to have made some input into that.'

The retiring Labour councillor said he has 'no regrets' about his time on the council and said that he has achieved much of what he set out to achieve.

He said: 'I haven't any regrets really. I think that everything that I would have planned for is coming into fruition and that's the way I would look at it. I am aware that no matter what you do, people will expect more but I'm happy that I'm leaving having achieved what I set out to achieve and the fruits of that will be seen in the future, and in the near future.'

He said he will remain active in politics and will campaign for Labour in both the next General and local elections. The retiring councillor also moved to assure the people of Lusk that the person co-opted by the party to replace him for the final year of the current council term will be from Lusk. He said that person is yet to be chosen but he will mentor the chose candidate for their first year on the council and campaign for them in the 2019 elections.

Outside of politics, Ken is looking forward to devoting some time to other interests, including ballroom dancing. Many will not know this about the retiring councillor but he is part of the Irish National Senior team in ballroom dancing and intends to kick the skirting for quite a few years yet.

Cllr Farrell thanked all his supporters down through the years and said it was a 'pleasure and privilege' to serve the people of the Balbriggan electoral area, and particularly the people of Lusk.

The Labour councillor said he hoped to be remembered as a hard worker and a man of integrity, and said: 'What people always have said about me is that they trust me and they see me as honest and as a person of integrity. I think they liked that I never promised anything other than trying to do my best.'

Fingal Independent