Independent councillor Michael Clarke has spoken about second chances in life after his election as Cathaoirleach of Sligo County Council on Friday.
The West Sligo representative defeated the only other nominee, Sinn Fein Cllr Thomas Healy, by 12 votes to one, with Independent Cllr Marie Casserly being elected Leas Cathaoirleach.
Cllr Clarke has been a councillor since 2009 and in his acceptance speech spoke of how people can often make mistakes but it doesn’t mean they are bad.
It’s believed he was referring to his conviction and subsequent two year jail sentence in 2002 for a complicated fraud scam against the Department of Agriculture.
Cllr Clarke, of Lismacbryan, Beltra, Sligo, was found guilty of conspiring to steal a government pay order worth over €34,000 and two counts of handling government pay orders worth over €64,000 between September 25 and December 17 1997.
“Everyone makes mistakes in life, but that doesn’t mean they should have to pay for it for the rest of their lives. Sometimes when people make bad choices it doesn’t mean they are bad people, it means they are human,” he said.
“I believe every day is a fresh day for the rest of your life. If you have the choice between being kind or being right my mother used to say choose kindness because then you’ll always be right.”
“Life is about being real, humble, and kind. Nelson Mandela said: ‘Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again’.”
Cllr Clarke said that throughout his 13 years on the council he has avoided ‘running down political parties’ and recognises the need to ‘work together as a team’.
He spoke of past motions that he is proud of such as the automatic right to medical inquest for maternal deaths in light of death by medical misadventure of Sally Rowlette in February 2013.
“This council was the first in the country to pass the motion to give families of loved ones the automatic right to an inquest that became legislation,” he said.
He stated the day makes him think of all the frontline workers who tirelessly worked through the pandemic.
“I believe the best tribute to them is for us politicians to do our work the way they have done theirs. That’s why I will be focusing on the main business of a council: Infrastructure, housing, and jobs,” he said.
“I am greatly concerned that vital infrastructure developments have been side-lined in favour of greenways and cycleways which, while important, must not get priority over main infrastructural projects.”
He stressed the need for a County Development Plan that will give construction companies the opportunity to build homes in Sligo allowing it ‘to take its place as a city’.
“In my view, if we want this town to become an undisputed city we must go back to the County Development Plan of 2012 because that is what it was designed to achieve,” he said.
While Cllr Clarke said the county has seen a worrying increase in violence in recent times, including ‘murders, hate crimes, rape, sexual assault, and aggravated burglaries’ he wanted to stress this is not representative of Sligo and highlighted achievements they should be proud of.
“We have sports people like Mona MacSharry, Keelan Kilrehill, Lauren Cadden, and Aoife Kilgallon. We have the Rovers, the rugby club, and Sligo GAA. We are truly blessed here in Sligo,” he said.
Cllr Clarke thanked his fellow representatives for their nomination in particularly his West Sligo colleague Cllr Joe Queenan, to whom he alluded Charlie Haughey’s description of Bertie Ahern as ‘the most cunning of them all’ stating they ‘weren’t always as comfortable together as they are today’ and jokingly added ‘if only I could get him to stop taking credit for my work’.
“I did not seek out this position but Cllr Queenan insisted I take it on and I am grateful to him for putting me in this position, I would also like to acknowledge Cllr Martin Baker for facilitating this proposal,” he said.
He described the former Cathaoirleach and GAA player Cllr Paul Taylor as a man of consensus and fairness and thanked him for his service in the role over the past 12 months.
“I can say on the football field he rarely had the opportunity to pass the ball to a better footballer than himself, I think today on the political field he just might have done that,” Cllr Clarke joked.
He commended the work of Sligo County Council and the staff who work tirelessly to ‘solve problems’ while working towards the benefit of the county.
Further to this he expressed his excitement to work with Chief Executive Martin Lydon, who was appointed to the role in July of last year, stating that although he has not been here for long he has a real ‘vision for the county’.
“Chief Executive Martin Lydon has already created an impact and I believe given time this man has the potential to go down in history as one of the greatest ever Chief Executive’s in Sligo,” he said.
Cllr Clarke stated that he holds the three female public representatives in the highest regard and that he believes the work they are doing will inspire more women to go into politics.
Cllr Marie Casserly was also elected as the Leas Cathaoirleach and stated she looks forward to working together with Cllr Clarke and highlighted his role as a supporter and teacher to those in the council.
“It is difficult coming in here, particularly as an Independent, and you have always been in the background supporting,” she said.
“What you said about women in politics is important and I don’t think it’s been mentioned in the chamber here before. I am delighted to be here and to have you as the leader of the team and look forward to the great year ahead.”
In light of Cllr Casserly’s election, Cllr Clarke stated this day has turned out to be ‘Independents day for Sligo’.
Cllr Arthur Gibbons commended the election of Cllr Casserly stating it is ‘fitting to have a female Leas Cathaoirleach’ giving balance to the male dominated council.
Before the election of the two new positions tributes were paid to former Cathaoirleach Paul Taylor with councillors expressing the proficiency with which he took on the role, his calm nature and expert handling of council meetings, and his ability to treat all representatives fairly regardless of political party.