Irene elected chair of new county council
Cllr Irene Winters was elected Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council last Friday, at the AGM and first meeting of the new five-year term.
The public gallery was full of friends and family for the occasion, as well as Minister Simon Harris and Deputy John Brady, with 11 of the members taking seats in the chamber for the first time.
Chief Executive of the council Frank Curran congratulated all the members on their election and assured them of every cooperation from the officials.
Cllr Shay Cullen proposed Cllr Winters. He spoke about her record as a hard working councillor who has served the district with distinction. She also ran a successful business for 20 years alongside her mother, he said, giving her an idea of the challenges faced across the community.
Cllr Anne Ferris nominated Cllr Steven Matthews. 'Congratulations to all the members sitting here today,' she said. 'We will all be here working together for the next five years.
'It's important to note that the Green Party in particular had great success in the election and great tribute must be given. It is my view and that of my Labour Party colleague Cllr Paul O'Brien that party politics should be left at the door and we should recognise the most important issues.'
A vote followed, with all members of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voting for Cllr Winters, and all other parties and independents voting for Cllr Matthews. It was 17 to 15 in Cllr Winters' favour, and clear how contentious votes will go for the term of this council.
'We're all here following a public vote and the result of that vote,' said Cllr Winters. She thanked Tom Murphy and all the staff for the meticulous way they had counted the ballots for the election. 'It was long and arduous for some of us but it showed the professionalism of the staff and how well the count was done. Even after the recount it came down to one single vote, and show the importance of one single vote,' she said.
'It's an honour and a privilege to be the Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council,' said Cllr Winters. 'Thank you to the members for putting their trust in me. Ten years ago I was the only female among 23 councillors. I'm delighted to see closer representation of reality here with almost 40 per cent.
She said to the newcomers that no query is small or insignificant. 'I will assist each and every one of you to the best of my ability.
'The public have put each of us in a position of trust,' said Cllr Winters. 'They have entrusted us with leading Wicklow to a better future. We may not always agree on the details, but everyone here wants a vibrant and thriving County Wicklow for all of our communities.'
Her priorities for her year as Cathaoirleach and beyond include transport, housing and climate action. She said that jobs need to be provided locally and that the council needs to maximise funding streams available to revitalise towns and facilities.
'I like to think that over the next five years the 32 of us will work together and put party politics out the window,' she said.
Cllr Steven Matthews congratulated the new Cathaoirleach. 'Over the last five years you have always been balanced, informed, measured, and I always considered you someone worth listening to,' he said,
'You will make an excellent Cathaoirleach. You have the experience and have shown that in the chamber.'
Cllr Joe Behan said that she will do an excellent job and that he is delighted for her and her family. 'I ask that you lead this county in acknowledging the magnificent achievement of Katie Taylor in becoming the world champion in professional boxing,' said Cllr Behan.
He said that a statue has been mentioned, as well as works of art. 'Many people have requested some permanent memorial be made in her honour,' he said.
Cllr Winters said she would be very happy to speak to Katie Taylor and her family and see what they would like.
Cllr Tom Fortune said that Cllr Winters will be an excellent Cathaoirleach. 'It's great to see democracy working, with enough people on both sides of the camp to partake. My sense is that you will be fair. No doubt we will have the odd argument - that's part and parcel of democracy.'
Cllr Anne Ferris congratulated Cllr Winters on behalf of the Labour Party. 'I'm delighted to see a woman Cathaoirleach,' she said. 'If I'm correct you are only the third. It's also great to see so many women elected. We in the Labour Party are delighted to be represented once again in Wicklow County Council and we assure you our support during the year.'
Cllr Gerry Walsh said that Cllr Winters has always been there with help and advice, and never slow to voice her opinion. 'I with you all the best and any support I can give is there.'
Cllr Vincent Blake congratulated Cllr Winters and all the members. He said that it is great to see so many women in the council. 'We are living up to that gender equality placed upon us in the last number of years,' he said.
Cllr Jennifer Whitmore said that she has seen a willingness in Cllr Winters to make decisions on their pros and cons and not always on the party line. 'It's also great to see a female Cathaoirleach,' she said. 'My two daughters are in the gallery, one was here when she was just four weeks old,' she said. Cllr Whitmore said that the gender ratio needs to be replicated when deciding where to allocate rolls on committees.
'Sinn Féin are smaller in number but maybe bigger in personality,' said Cllr Dermot O'Brien, who congratulated Cllr Winters. 'I think you are a person of integrity,' he said. 'You transcend those party lines in the best interests of what will happen to this county over the next five years.'
Cllr John Snell said that he has no doubt that Cllr Winters will bring to fruition her goals mentioned in the chamber. 'It is important to have someone like you leading the first year of a new council,' he said. 'People can bed into their positions and get a feeling for what being a councillor is. You have our support,' he said. 'You mentioned five years, and that is the true mark of you as a person. You're not looking to your own year but the full term of the council.
Chief executive Mr Curran congratulated Cllr Winters. 'She brings significant experience as a public representative, member of an SPC, and business person. Her priorities of transport, economic development and climate are very much our priorities.'