Labour councillor Maura Bell became only the fourth woman ever to be elected Mayor of Wexford in the 700-year history of the position, when she donned the chains of office on Monday afternoon.
Cllr Bell was elected uncontested to the role of first citizen, with Independent member David Hynes as her Deputy Mayor. She follows in the footsteps of previous female holders of the office – Avril Doyle (in 1975), Helen Corish-Wylde (1990) and Philomena Roche (2006) – whom she referenced in her acceptance speech.
A former manager of the Irish National Heritage Park in Ferrycarrig, where she worked for 20 years, she was first elected to Wexford Borough District Council in 2019.
She is the first chairperson of the recently-founded Wexford County Council Women’s Coalition which is committed to raising the profile of women in politics locally and encouraging more women to get involved.
In proposing her for the mayoralty, her party colleague Cllr George Lawlor said Cllr Bell may be in her first term as councillor but in reality she been a public representative and a superb ambassador for Wexford for most of her adult life, having helped to transform the heritage park into the tourism success it is today.
The newly-elected Mayor said the role is an ancient one dating back to 1317 when the mayoral charter was first established giving vast powers to the burgesses to make laws for the area. She said the powers available to councillors today are somewhat more limited and that is an issue that might have to be revisited as the principle of exercising power at a level closest to the people is still an important one.
Cllr Bell said she was conscious of being only the fourth woman ever to be elected Mayor in all that time and as chairperson of the Women’s Coalition, she said it important that young girls and women know that they belong in politics.
"It will be part of my function over the next 12 months to make that case and to champion a truly representative politics.”
The Mayor called it a very proud day for her family and also for the Labour Party, which has played an important role in the life and development of Wexford in a tradition dating back to the 1911 Lockout.
She said that while Wexford has an ancient and proud past, now more importantly, it is setting out on a new period of growth and economic development with projects such as Trinity Wharf, the Monck Street Plaza, a Viking Destination in the Heritage Park and the economic and educational links with Savannah, Georgia.
"We have an exciting agenda ahead. I hope to work with each and every one of you in the shared task of serving the people of Wexford and ensuring that we continue the building of an even better and more prosperous town and district for the people who elected us.”
Members of Cllr Bell’s family, including her husband Anthony Brown, daughter Anne and brother Paul (of Dancing at the Crossroads fame with Brendan Wade) were in the public gallery along with Labour TD Brendan Howlin. Her daughter Clara appeared via video link on the big county council chamber screen from Long Island, New York.
Congratulating her mother, Clara said she wished she could have been there in person. She recalled knocking on doors as Maura’s “campaign manager” a few years ago and was now very proud to see her become Mayor.
Announcing that she would be home in a few months, she said she would like to say, on behalf of the whole family, that Nanny Bell would have been very proud of her today. Cllr Bell’s beloved mother Emma sadly passed away in February of this year.
The newly-elected Mayor also received the good wishes of fellow councillors and officials with Sinn Féin councillor Tom Forde describing her as “a very genuine person with a good heart” and saying he looked forward to working with her.
Tributes were paid to outgoing Mayor Garry Laffan who thanked elected colleagues and council staff for their support, guidance and co-operation during the past year which saw a quick return to normality after Covid-19 lockdowns.
"You were very respectful of the office of Mayor and I would like to think I was fair with all of you”, he said. He thanked the outgoing Deputy Mayor John Hegarty who remarked that due to Cllr Laffan’s dedication to the job, he had handed in his chains “with very low mileage after one careful owner”.
Cllr Lawlor told the outgoing Mayor “you did the office proud and you didn’t put a foot wrong” while Cllr Bell thanked him for his “courtesy and professionalism”.
The outgoing Mayor told the new incumbent: “Congratulations, I wish you the best. Try not to get too bogged down or let it overwhelm you, it can at times, but I know you will be well able for that.”