ELEVEN of the 13 candidates going for election in the Skibbereen-Clonakilty Local Electoral Area made their pitches for votes to a full house at a ‘Meet the Candidates’ evening at the Brookpark Business Centre in Dunmanway last weekend.
The event was organised by Brookpark chairman Peter Walsh, supported by Dunmanway Chamber of Commerce and Dunmanway Community Council, and chaired by former Labour Party TD and senator, Michael McCarthy.
After making their energised pitches, candidates participated in a question and answer session with the main thrust of the questions being what will they do for Dunmanway, if elected, while they also tried to hold outgoing councillors to account about what they had done for the town in the past five years.
It was all very civilised and the audience had a lot of interested members of various political hues who listened intently, but kept their counsel as they took in what is possibly the most diverse field of candidates we have had in recent years.
A case in point was the first candidate invited to speak, independent Yousuf Janab Ali, a businessman from Clonakilty, who has lived here for 20 years, and said that he was ‘part of the new conversation’ in Irish society and wants to be a voice for ‘those (immigrants) who might find it difficult to integrate.’
Another independent, Brendan McCormack from Caherbeg in Rosscarbery, said he was ‘an accidental candidate’ stemming from his involvement in the Save Our Skibbereen campaign to stop a proposed plastics factory being built in the town.
Dunmanway native and second-time Fianna Fáil candidate Deirdre Kelly said she felt the economic upturn still hadn’t reached her hometown. She promised to organise public meetings so that decisions affecting the local area can be people-led.
First-time Fine Gael candidate, also from Dunmanway, Yvonne Cahalane, said she ‘doesn’t like the politics of politics.’ And, referring to her campaign to secure appropriate medical treatment for her son, Tristan, said: ‘I don’t quit. I’ve changed the landscape of medicine in this country.’
Fine Gael candidate Karen Coakley said she represents honesty and hard work, and referred to her previous political experience as a member of Skibbereen Town Council for five years and mayor of the town in 2012/13. Affordable housing, the environment and healthcare are her political priorities.
Outgoing Sinn Féin Cllr Paul Hayes, who was elected in 2014 and had previously been a Clonakilty town councillor, said town councils were ‘wrongly abolished.’
Infrastructure, roads, broadband and housing are ‘huge issues’ for him.
Also from Clonakilty, the Social Democrats’ Evie Nevin wants to be elected to Cork County Council to ‘make a real difference,’ especially for the 11,000 people in West Cork, like her, living with disability. She is passionate about the environment and providing more facilities for young people.
Sean Creedon, originally from Blarney, who has been living in Clonakilty for the past 10 years, is standing for the new Aontú party founded by former Sinn Féin TD Peadar Tóibín and he was highly critical of the existing councillors, saying that they cannot keep doing the same thing over and over again if they want to solve the problems with our ‘chaotic’ roads and provide jobs and houses.
Although based in Skibbereen, Fianna Fáil’s Joe Carroll, an outgoing councillor, spoke of his great love of Dunmanway, where he grew up. He was critical of the National Planning Framework for not addressing rural concerns adequately, alleging that ‘Shane Ross had closed down the country’ and that roads, broadband and employment were his priorities.
First-time Fine Gael candidate JJ Walsh, from Ballinascarthy, said he said he brings a lifetime of experience and that local government needs a lot of improvement; government is too centralised and people need to speak up and get involved. Rural Ireland is open for business and we need to take responsibility for our own energy and water usage in the context of climate change.
Cape Clear resident Vanessa O’Sullivan, originally from Dublin, is representing People Before Profit and was critical of political parties deciding what people want and block-voting rather than asking the people to tell them how to vote. Proper sustainable renewable energy and jobs are her main priorities.
Unavoidably absent from the ‘Meet the Candidates’ event were Dunmanway-based independent candidate Declan Hurley and Fianna Fáil’s Christopher O’Sullivan from Clonakilty.
The questions and answers session gave the candidates the opportunity to say what they would do about roads, helping small businesses, voluntary organisations, young people, rural dwellers and climate change. Plenty of promises were made.
However, the question that struck the biggest chord was about the plight of five-year-old Hannah Higgins, who has special needs, and whose family has been refused a place for her in the special needs unit at the local school for a second time.
The emotional plea from her father, Brian, drew promises from the candidates of whatever help they could give in lobbying and, indeed, from those in attendance, there was an outpouring of support for Hannah.