By Olivia Kelleher
The new Mayor of County Cork, who has used a wheelchair since a car crash in the 1990s, says his aim is to highlight the physical obstacles that people with disabilities face in their day-to-day life.
Bantry-based Patrick Gerard Murphy said when he embarked on his journey in politics he never envisaged the honour and privilege of being the Mayor of the County.
The Fianna Fáil councillor, who is a native of the Beara Peninsula, said he had experienced "many a twist and turn on the road of life".
"I ended up here in the end. It is great. I think it would be remiss of me not to highlight (wheelchair access issues) while I have the opportunity to do so, to look at all our villages and towns and make them as mobility-friendly as possible for all people.
"I will drive the introduction of the Disability Federation of Ireland's 'Make Way Day' to highlight the everyday physical obstacles that people with disabilities face."
Cork County Council recently employed a driver for the outgoing Mayor, Cllr Declan Hurley, after his predecessors spoke about the health and safety aspect of clocking up huge
mileage during the course of the term in office.
Cllr Murphy says it is vital that the County Council employ a driver given the vast geographical expanse covered by the Mayor over the fast-paced 12 months.
"My first day in office tomorrow I am in Ahakista, I have to go to Douglas and I have to go to Charleville for the agricultural show. It takes a lot of pressure off to have the driver. A lot of early mornings and late nights. It certainly was a health and safety issue."
Cllr Murphy, who first became a councillor more than 10 years ago, said one of the big challenges for him this year will involve the boundary issue, with the onus on the two local authorities in Cork to work in partnership with each other.
"Once the decision is made it is hugely important that we work together for the Cork region. We are very interdependent. The city relies on the county. The county relies on the city."
Cllr Murphy, who works in the disability sector, was joined at County Hall by his brothers Michael and Noel, his two young nephews Cory and Jake and his cousins. Mike Murphy said that he was very happy for his brother.
"I am very proud. He has come a long way. He has had a lot of obtacles. What he achieved now and getting to this has been a hard enough road."
The new Deputy Mayor of the Council is Cllr Mary Linehan Foley. The Independent councillor replaced Fianna Fail's Ian Doyle in the role. The former Mayor of Youghal comes from a family steeped in politics. Her father and grandfather were public representatives.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Mayor of the County, Cllr Declan Hurley, said his year got off to a "challenging start" with the "baptism of fire" that was the boundary issue. The Independent Councillor said the local authority had received the best possible end result avoiding a doomsday scenario.
He stressed that the highlights of the year were too numerous to mention. However, he particularly enjoyed being a tourist in his own county.
"I have been north, south, east and west. It has been about meeting the people on the ground and showcasing what people are doing in the community. They are the unsung heroes. They make Cork what it is."
Cllr Hurley said having a driver for the Mayor was not a luxury but a practicality.
"It is the safety element of it. The first day I had a driver was the day of the royal visit. I have over 40,000 kilometres driven in my own car around the county (over the year). You are out late at night. You have early starts in the morning. You are trying to brief yourself on events you are going to. Having a driver gives you the space to concentrate on your briefings."
Cllr Hurley said meeting Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall was a memorable way to end the year.
"They are very down to earth. Very easy to talk to. Having been with Prince Charles throughout the day the points he made were very relevant to Cork. He wasn't just passing through. He had been briefed and he knew what the issues were. It was a great way of finishing off the year."
Cllr Hurley joked that when he was introduced to Prince Charles, the heir to the throne looked at the City Mayor and said: "Are the two of ye still talking?"
He said the Duchess was a keen and pleasant conversationalist and that he appreciated her work in highlighting issues such as prostate cancer in men.
"What she is spearheading at the moment is cancer-related which is prostate cancer in men. She is spearheading the training of medical dogs and incorporating them in to the health service. When the PSA levels go to some level in the urine they give off an odour and dogs pick up on that. It was fascinating."