Tributes paid to a ‘unique and popular’ politician

AN OUTSPOKEN local politician who won a landmark High Court case on disability payments a decade ago died at the weekend.

Independent Cork city councillor Con O’Connell died in the South Infirmary Hospital on Saturday night after several years of ill-health. He was 64.

He had been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in December 2003.

Despite his ill-health, he continued to attend regular city council meetings with the help of a carer until recently. He is survived by his wife, Anne, and a large extended family.

Mr O’Connell was born on St Mary’s Terrace in Greenmount in 1943, where his family has lived for generations.

The voluntary community worker lived in Hillview Estate in Ballyphehane.

He first ran for election to the city council in 1991 and polled an incredible 434 first preference votes — 4% of the total — in the South Central Ward. But he lost out on winning a seat.

He spent the next eight years building his profile, holding regular Saturday morning clinics at the Ballyphehane Pipe Bandroom, and taking a legal studies course at UCC.

In 1995 and following a four-year legal battle, he won a High Court judgment rendering invalid a 1991 government order reducing his and his wife’s disability payments by 20%.

It followed the Hyland case, which established that married couples should not receive less social welfare benefits than individual cohabiting couples.

But instead of equalising upwards, the government took 20% off disabled couples who were married and who had previously been paid as individuals.

He romped home in the 1999 local elections topping the poll and taking the title Alderman.

In 2003, the Supreme Court dismissed a case taken by Mr O’Connell in which an order had been sought to extend the refuse waiver system to areas covered by private waste collectors.

He fought the start of the 2004 local election campaign from his hospital bed and retained his seat.

Ward colleague and newly elected Labour TD, Ciarán Lynch, led tributes to him last night.

“He had a unique independent voice on the council. He was a very popular politician with the electorate and is someone whose contributions will be sorely missed,” he said.

Cllr Dave McCarthy also paid tribute. “Con was a great community worker who always put his constituents first. His death is a huge loss,” he said.

It was not clear last night whether Mr O’Connell had nominated someone to take over his council seat.

Meanwhile, the Labour party selected Lorraine Kingston to take Mr Lynch’s seat on the council. The mother of one is a City of Cork VEC tutor in the adult education section.

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