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Saturday 20 July 2019

Sheehan 'honoured' to be chairman

Keith Doyle, the outgoing Wexford County Council cathaoirleach, hands over the chains of office to new chairman, Cllr Michael Sheehan
Keith Doyle, the outgoing Wexford County Council cathaoirleach, hands over the chains of office to new chairman, Cllr Michael Sheehan

For Fianna Fáil Cllr Michael Sheehan, being elected chairman of Wexford County Council was the fulfilment of a long held personal ambition.

Being the first New Ross town person elected to the chair in decades was a great honour for him and his family who were in attendance in numbers. Cllr John Fleming proposed Cllr Sheehan, whose nomination was seconded by Cllr Pip Breen. Cllr Oliver Walsh proposed Cllr Frank Staples who he described as a hard working councillor, who has been an advocate for mental health supports for the county's citizens.

19 councillors voted in favour of Cllr Sheehan, including Independents Pat Barden, Ger Carthy, Mary Farrell, Anthony Connick and Leonard Kelly, with Labour's Maura Bell and George Lawlor also voting for him. Cllr Sheehan said: So today is our chance to say thanks to those who those unsuccessful in the contestants. Thanks to those councillors who have served, Larry O'Brien, Martin Murphy and to thank Paddy Kavanagh, Robbie Ireton, Willie Fitzharris, Tony Welsh, Maria Doyle, Mick Roche and Johnny Mythen and of course Keith Doyle. Congratulations to those new councillors, councillors Laffan, Barden, Codd, Murphy, Browne, Bell, Devereux, Kenny, Kelly, Byrne and Owens. Thanks to all the families for their sacrifices and their support and generosity - we couldn't do our jobs unless we had your support and willingness to forgo and carry the burdens.'

Cllr Sheehan said the council will be unique in the sense that it will be a council to lead us into a new decade. 'As we build that bridge to the to 2020s, it's both an honour and indeed a privilege to start the journey together on behalf of all the people - encapsulating their hopes and their dreams, but more importantly their lives. And this year will be the year of the bridge to the new future.'

He said the completion of the largest economic infrastructure in the state and the county's history, the two new bypasses for Enniscorthy and New Ross, marks a pivotal moment for the county, one the council must seize on. 'The opening of the Enniscorthy Bypass and the New Ross Bypass will set the trajectory of our futures. It isn't just the opening of a bridge, it's the opening of a new era for Wexford. Dublin and Cork are within 90 minutes at most. We need to be ready for the challenges that lay ahead. It starts today.'

He said: 'I'm very conscious of the fact that there hasn't been a Cathaoirleach from the town New Ross in over a generation. Opportunities like this don't come easy, they don't come often. That is why to the people of New Ross, I say Our Time has come- we have one shot to change our destiny. Let's make it happen. Within this term, we will complete the Economic Plan, Tourism Strategy, The LECP and sign off on a new development plan and 2040 Strategy. But we need to go further; in this year I would like to see us develop Town Teams for Enniscorthy and New Ross, and devise a Rural Regeneration Strategy to ensure rural voices are heard and acted upon.'

In New Ross a brand new enterprise centre is due to open in Barrack Lane incorporating a Fab Lab, while the John Street Grain store will open within a year and works will commence on the High Hill. 'With an extension to the library and by replacing the fire station, we can reboot the town centre economy,' he said.

'This will also be the year we need to the sod on the advance factory, the greenway to Waterford and this is the year we will remove the oil tanks from the quay, giving the River Barrow back to the people. We will look at enhancing sports and recreational amenities for all ages including a skate park.'

Turning his attention to Enniscorthy he said the business park will open, adding that the council is focused on moving the town forward. 'It is at the centre of the county and central to our future.'

In Wexford the Trinity Wharf project will continue to be progressed, he said, adding that in Gorey the Hatch Lab will still be the model of best practice.

'As a body, we will keep the work going to ensure we make progress in housing and homelessness, also in the lobbying for gas in New Ross, broadband in the county, and making sure Rosslare is a top priority in the shadow of Brexit and that the government delivers on its promise for Waterford Airport.'

Calling on councillors to work together to make people's lives better, he said: 'They asked us to work together, us of all parties and none - to make their vote their voice. It is my hope we can rise above our differences as Heaney says, behaviour that's admired is the path to power among people everywhere. That is why I would like to continue the working groups we had from the previous term on third level education, health and Rosslare development. I would also like us within the next term to Make Wexford an Age Friendly County, a disability accessible county, to make it an autism friendly council and to engage meaningfully with Comharile na Nog.'

Vice chairperson Cllr Lisa McDonald wished Cllr Sheehan well in the year ahead. She said: 'I was elected here the first time 15 years ago. This is my second time being elected by the people. It was a smaller council back in 2004 and perhaps more effective. A lot has happened to local government in the meantime.'

She said there were four women in the council in 2004 and there are six now. 'Three are still here: Barbara Anne Murphy, Kathleen Codd Nolan and myself. Oliver Walsh was the only other councillor here. We have actually gone down percentage wise in women as we're now 82 per cent male. There is something to be said about that and to be done about that.'

Cllr George Lawlor congratulated Cllr Sheehan on his election to the top position in the council, pointing out that Cllr Sheehan has many stated ambitions for New Ross for the coming year. 'I know you will look after the entire county in your remit. We have a lot of work to do and there are challenges but also a tremendous opportunity in Brexit. Rosslare Europort is the closest port to Europe. Our bypasses will present us with huge opportunities as well. We are one hour away from one million consumers and opportunity lies there. We are the best placed in Ireland to do business. We have to utilise the hundreds of millions in infrastructure by highlighting how Wexford is the most attractive place to do business in and live in in Ireland.'

Cllr Ger Carthy said Cllr Sheehan has served his town and county with great honour, adding that it is a tremendous honour to be the first citizen of Wexford County Council. He wished Cllr Sheehan and his husband Edward all the best over the coming year and congratulated Cllr McDonald on her election.

Cllr David Hynes said: 'I hope you will be fair and balanced in your short stewardship. Unfortunately I couldn't vote for you. I didn't want to come between yourself and Fine Gael!'

Cllr Hynes bemoaned the duplication that the new districts will cause and the lack of funding being provided to the Rosslare district. 'We need to get money for this. Wexford town has deteriorated in a major way. We recently ended up having to put discretionary funding money towards a tarmac path in the town. It's ludicrous that councillors had to put money in to finish a footpath.'

Cllr Jackser Owens praised Cllr Sheehan for always representing his own area, adding that during his term, he will be focused on representing the people of the Enniscorthy district.

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