The first Sinn Féin lord mayor of Cork in almost a century vowed last night to fight for an independent and expanded city authority.
Cllr Chris O’Leary made his comments after his historic election as the city’s first Sinn Féin mayor since Seán French in 1925 and as work continues on a local government review which could see the city council scrapped.
He defeated the only other nominee, AAA Cllr Marion O’Sullivan, 25 votes to four, with the support of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and several Independents, who voted in line with last year’s D’Hondt agreement.
Ind Cllr Kieran McCarthy abstained from the mayoral vote for the second year in a row.
Mr O’Leary, a community worker who represents the Cork South East Ward, used his speech to fire a shot across the bows of the Cork Local Government Review group, which is considering a city boundary extension or a possible merger with the county council.
An independent city authority with extended devolved powers and an increased area to cater for the city’s growth over the next 40 years is essential, he said.
“It is ironic and really disgraceful that the chamber, which provided the platform for the supreme sacrifices made by Tomas MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney, should now be threatened by demotion to a municipal district in and around the centenary of 1916.
“The second largest urban area in this state requires strong independent government to address its challenges, not least of which is the concentration of resources on the east coast.
“It is important that people understand that the governance of the city is important, not least because the decisions taken will affect their lives.”
He said he was deeply honoured to be elected mayor for a year which will include the centenary of the Easter Rising.
“This is the city that gave us two of the most iconic Republicans in this country, Tomas McCurtain and Terence McSwiney — two patriots who dedicated their lives to this country and our city,” he said.
“We should be forever proud that these two great men represented our city as Ard-Mhéara and they will forever be a shining light over Cork and the office of Ard-Mhéara.
“The standard that they set should be the aim that all holders of the office should strive for but few if any will achieve.”
He said he will use his year in office to focus on the city’s social housing crisis and he announced plans to establish a Cork City Housing Stakeholders Forum in a bid to identify solutions.
But ultimately, he said more money is needed to build or buy more social housing.
“Since 2008 Government funding for social housing has been cut by 90%,” he said.
“We are in the midst of the worst housing crisis in modern history.
“We now have families that are sleeping tonight in local hotels because they cannot afford the rent in private accommodation and the council is unable to house them.
“As Ard-Mhéara, I pledge to use my office to highlight this crisis — to put a human face on the suffering of thousands of families who do not have a home of their own.”
Mr O’Leary said he also hopes to build cross party support to secure the future of Cork Airport, and to launch a special school awards scheme to mark the 1916 centenary.
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