In the third of three pieces by the Cork South West TDs on their year since the 2020 general election, Christopher O’Sullivan (Fianna Fáil) reflects on his first 12 months in Dáil Eireann
BEING elected to represent Cork South West is the biggest honour of my life. I’m enormously grateful to the people of CSW for putting their trust in me, particularly in these extremely hard times.
I have represented the region in one public role or another for 14 years and am totally unapologetic about putting the constituency first, whilst also proving myself on national issues. I was a very community-focused council member and mayor, and have maintained that attitude. In practical terms that means I’m on my feet in the Dail or cornering ministers in the halls and consistently fighting for the needs and wants of CSW.
These are dark days, but I strongly believe in Ireland as a country – just look at our social protection supports, business supports and wage subsidy supports throughout the pandemic. They rank amongst the best in the world.
Ireland is a resilient country and CSW is amongst one of the best places to live on the planet. Whilst negativity towards the government comes with the territory, I think it is incumbent on all political parties to stop politicising matters in order to gain traction for themselves and to instead engage in constructive criticism and a sense of unity in the face of a national (and global) emergency.
My constituency office is operating full-time in Clonakilty. It’s a central location for people to air their views and seek assistance. The work we’ve done brought both the Taoiseach and Public Expenditure Minister Michael McGrath to the area last year to see first-hand the issues being faced by CSW.
And the direct result of those visits? €5.2 million to get flood damaged roads repaired after the devastating damage in August.
I sought election to help form a government. It’s certainly the tougher role to be in, but it was important that people put up their hands and work towards forming a strong and capable government in this extremely challenging time.
We have a good record so far, with policies such as the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, rates waivers on premises, the raft of business and community supports and the ban on evictions. There is a huge amount of work still to do of course.
I’m particularly proud of the 2021 budget - the largest in the history of the state - especially in relation to the unprecedented emphasis and funds allocated to education.
I am very passionate about climate action for the sake of future generations. As vice-chair of the climate action committee, I’m glad we’re now on the cusp of passing laws that will drive proper climate action in Ireland. I encourage everyone to take a look at the Bill and get in touch with my office with any thoughts, constructive criticism or queries. It’s imperative that we get this right.
I have a number of priorities for the coming year:
Firstly, fixing the many broadband blackspots in CSW which is utterly unacceptable in 2021. Myself and my team are determined to get results for the entire area. It’s vitally important because of what it means for post-pandemic Ireland. Allowing people to viably work from home long-term brings with it the potential to reinvigorate local economies by encouraging people to spend money in their regions, towns and villages.
In that spirit, another major priority is to help deliver a proper framework and supports to the many businesses who have remained closed for the past 12 months. It’s not only imperative for them that they survive, it’s essential for the good of our communities that they survive. This includes tourism and hospitality which has been one of the hardest hit sectors. I see them as being key to the future prosperity of this area.
Thirdly, I will be concentrating on fixing the deficit of greenways and walkways in CSW. We have a lack of shovel-ready projects in the area, so I’ll be focusing on liaising with communities across the region so when the funding becomes available again we’re ready to go.
The future of our fishing communities is also a major priority. I called for a taskforce earlier this year to help the fisheries sector limit the blow of Brexit, and I’m keen to see that taskforce set up fully so it can fulfil its work.
The biggest barrier to doing my job during the pandemic has been not being able to physically visit parts of the constituency for large parts of the past year. I set up clinics in as many places as I could when restrictions were lifted last year, and I’m really looking forward to visiting every parish in the constituency and hearing people out.
Being in government doesn’t mean you always get it right. I entered government with decency, civic duty and avoidance of austerity measures in mind, and I believe that’s an attitude shared by the entire government.