Tuesday 25 June 2019

O'Connor is '19 and out'

Long serving councillor and cricket fan, David O'Connor tells John Manning why he is retiring from the council for a new role at Cricket Ireland

Retired councillor David O’Connor was Mayor of Fingal in 2015-16
Retired councillor David O’Connor was Mayor of Fingal in 2015-16

Cricket-mad David O'Connor has been batting for the people of rural Fingal for 19 years on the council but has called time on his 19-year career in local politics to pursue a role promoting the sport he loves.

The long-serving councillor with his political base rooted in the rural villages of north Fingal made the shock announcement, early last week that he would step down from the council as he prepares to take on the presidency of Cricket Ireland, next year.

He told the Fingal Independent that the timing was to avoid the traditional round of tributes from his fellow councillors at the full council's monthly meetings. Mr O'Connor explained: 'I didn't want the tributes. My father was great at crying and I'm a bit the same.'

However, that plan may have backfired on him a little bit has he as fielded hundreds of calls since making the announcement he would step down from the council, delivering their tributes personally to the popular local councillor.

So was the decision to call time on his 19-year career in the local authority a difficult one? Mr O'Connor said: 'It was a difficult decision. Politics is a bit like a drug - it draws you in. I started working on Cathal Boland then to see if he would take over from me - he lives beside me and knows the area very well. I wanted to try and make sure there was kind of a seamless transition.'

Mr Boland is a former county councillor himself who stepped away from public life in 2004 but has remained active in the community, most notably in his work for the Fingal Old IRA Commemorative Society. Mr O'Connor said he had been working to convince Mr Boland to take his place on the council for the remainder of the term up to next summer's local elections.

He said: 'Cathal was always a political animal and I think he's got his mojo back. He's doing great work at the moment with the Old IRA Commemorative Society.'

Mr O'Connor is happy with his decision to retire from the council and said: 'Ah it is the right decision, there is no doubt. I'll still be in the public eye with the cricket and other sports I'm involved in.'

Having said that, had the Cricket Ireland opportunity not come along, he is not altogether sure he would not have thrown his hat in the ring again, come the next local elections in 2019.

The Ballyboughal-based former councillor said: 'For most politicians in the fourth year of their term, who are questioning what they want to do, half of them will tell you I'm not going to run again until Christmas comes around and they get their mojo back again and the clock starts ticking down to the election.'

Asked what he will miss about the job, he said: 'Making a difference, I think. I know that may be a cliché but I'll miss finding out what is really going on in the county and making it work for people.'

While he listed a number of projects he was involved in developing like the Seamus Ennis Arts Centre in Naul or the eagerly-awaited development of the Broadmeadow Way walkway across Broadmeadow Estuary, Mr O'Connor said it was the little victories that made the job a rewarding one.

He said: 'You get to help a few people get what they are entitled to. It's the small stuff like that, that is the reward. That's what makes you think: 'That's why I'm here.''

Mr O'Connor is now President Elect of Cricket Ireland and hopes to be confirmed in that position next year and he is looking forward to this new chapter in his life.

He accepted a nomination to the post in April, after a lifetime of involvement in Fingal cricket which he said he was 'honoured' to represent on the national and indeed, international stage.

Even as we speak, the cricket fan is preparing to go over to Malahide Castle to see Ireland play India in a T20 international and is looking forward to travelling around the world in pursuit of the Irish cricket team to share in the sport's elevated status in the country as a Test Nation.

The position is entirely voluntary and Mr O'Connor and his wife Breege already build holidays around cricket and that is something they are going to be doing a lot more of in the days ahead.

The retiring councillor, in his new role with Cricket Ireland is hoping he gets to meet arguably the greatest cricketer that Fingal has ever produced, in Eoin Morgan 'and shake his hand at Lord's'.

According to Mr O'Connor the development of a cricket centre at Balrothery in which he was involved, has proven to be a huge impetus for cricket in Fingal and driven the success of north Fingal teams and seen Balrothery cricketers like John Mooney achieve extraordinary things on the world stage.

All of that is to come but reflecting on his career in Fingal County Council, David O'Connor said he would like to be remembered as someone 'who did the best he could for the people who elected me and who was able to look at the bigger picture, and not just focus on my own area or getting re-elected'.

He leaves behind an ever-younger council and he departs the scene with some simple advice for new public representatives serving on the council.

He told them to 'be honest with council officials and be honest with the people who elected you'. Mr O'Connor said that at times he had to make decisions that were unpopular with the people who elected him but they would turn around and elect him again because he was straight about his reasons.

The retiring councillor has some strong views on the future of local government too and insists there should not be any move towards paying county councillors a full-time salary and in fact, if he had his choice, he would roll back a lot of the payments already available.

He explained: 'I would get rid of all the allowances. You can get your expenses but not allowances - don't make it a job. If it's voluntary then you will get people who are genuinely interested in it and committed to it. It's one thing I'm really worried about. We are paying millions into Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael (in allowances) and I'm not sure that's a good use of our money.'

The retiring councillor has been moved by many of the tributes paid to him over the last week and particularly the phone calls he has got from front-line staff in the council with whom he always had an affinity, after his own career in the ESB.

He said: 'I was very lucky when I started here with an engineer called Billy McClean who also retired, last week, on the same day as myself. Billy was a brilliant engineer and took great pride in his work.

'I got very emotional with some of the phone calls I got over the last few days. People I've worked with in the council whether they were Grade III, Grade IV or Grade V. If you give people a little bit of time, you get it back in spades.'

To the voters of rural Fingal and all over north Fingal who stuck by him in election after election during his 19-spell on the council, he said: 'A huge thank you. They were very easy on me. They didn't come to me with spurious problems and when they had an issue they would give me the time to sort it out'

Mr O'Connor ran up a decent score in his innings on the council and is merely stopping for tea before embarking on a second innings at Cricket Ireland.

He is looking forward to the challenge and has a lot of respect for the organisation he is joining, whose CEO is also a Fingal man.

He explained: 'We are very lucky in Irish Cricket, that this man, Warren Deutrom who lives in Malahide and is married to a Malahide woman took over from John Wright.

'John had all of what's happening now in his head and died suddenly - it was a terrible loss. It's the seed the he sowed along with the brilliance of Warren that is getting us where we are going now.'

Looking forward to his new role and always remembering where he comes from, he said: 'Representing the cricketers of Fingal at a national level will be a great honour.'

Fingal Independent