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Cork Independent

INDOpinion

73 years awaiting

Wednesday, 4th July, 2018 4:14pm

This is an edited version of Cllr Mick Finn's speech at his inauguration as Lord Mayor of Cork recently:

An rud is annamh, is iontach: what is seldom, is wonderful. It’s a huge honour for me to be elected Lord Mayor of Cork, the first independent to hold the office since Michael Sheehan in 1945.

It’s very humbling for me to accept this unique and iconic chain of office, now 231 years old, the very one worn by the two most famous mayors in the world of their time, Terence MacSwiney and Tomás MacCurtain, whose lives and indeed deaths created waves across the globe and focussed huge attention on Cork and the Irish struggle for independence.

I think it’s fair to say that every man and woman who has occupied this office since has followed in their footsteps.

I would like to congratulate and thank the outgoing Lord Mayor, Cllr Tony Fitzgerald and his family for a great year in office and the excellent work he carried out in the role.

It is nearly 100 years on from the year of the three lord mayors, two of whom gave their lives in defence of this office, this chain, this country. Although the nature of their struggle has changed considerably, all of us who follow in their wake continue to be guided by a moral compass and informed by a social conscience in dealing with the new issues of today.

I am also conscious that 73 years have lapsed since an Independent councillor rose in this chamber to be voted in as lord mayor. Michael Sheehan was the last one to do so in 1945. We had our first Sinn Féin lord mayor in a century, also in this term of council, so these last few years have been historic for many reasons.

This office rose to international prominence following the death of MacCurtain and McSwiney within months of each other, in 1920. But such a global reach was nothing new for Cork which at the time was a well-known merchant city of international trade, commerce and culture. A glance at the history of the butter market and trade to and from our port reveals as much.

Turn the pages on, a century later and Cork continues to be a leader here in Ireland, in Europe and beyond in terms of education, IT, food, pharma, research and many other proficiencies. To borrow a sentiment used by President John F Kennedy here in our concert hall 55 years ago, “Cork is still old Cork, but it has found a new mission”.

That new mission is shared by all councillors whose priorities include the provision of more and better quality housing (the most pressing need of our time), better response times to housing maintenance, helping to combat anti-social behaviour, providing higher quality recreational options for the people of the city, increasing or prioritising funding for arts, sports, festivals, ensuring our roads and estates are safe and well managed and developing effective flood defences – these are things we are all working to achieve for those who elect us.

There are particular areas I am interested in. I will use the year to encourage those from backgrounds influenced by disadvantage to step up and be counted as active members of this city.

To this end, Cork needs to work even harder on being an inclusive place for all its citizens and as Lord Mayor I will endeavour to help stitch together and support all the various strands of community-building already in operation.

Cork is looking outward and forward with confidence. We are building on our past which is always close beneath our feet. We need to tread lightly on our history and ensure that progress continues to be a balancing act between our past and what has brought us to where we are to the future we envisage.

We are a city rising. 5,000 jobs are in the making across several major capital developments already under construction with the promise of more to come.

New hotels are springing up across town to meet the demand from large increase of visitors; the transformative Docklands project is back on the agenda while new parks, in the Tramore Valley and Marina, will be open by next year; a long-awaited flood defence system gets underway in Q4 this year while an even-longer awaited event centre is within touching distance. A €16m refurb of the water treatment centre is planned, new bridges and motorway projects will renew our infrastructure, and companies are queuing up to come to Cork with incubation businesses of 200 that could easily become 2,000.

With this in mind, we should be looking at a strategic corridor in the new western approaches to the city and to develop a national software and science campus that will help attract and keep these new businesses.

These are exciting times for Cork, these are changing times for Cork. We need to step out of our second-city speak and notch it up to first gear.

With change, of course, comes challenge, which Cork people have never shirked from or been afraid of.

And while 5,000 plus new jobs are to be welcomed in an enlarged city, all of the developments mentioned are certain to pose difficulties for council and Government.

Where will all these people live? How will they be able to access the city from the new suburbs? What will happen to our cost of living?

Managing change with one eye on the past and another on the future will represent a major challenge for a bigger Cork city but one I’m confident we are well positioned to tackle.

There will be a warm welcome from the people and communities of Ballincollig, Tower, Blarney, Glanmire, Lehenaghmore, Frankfield, Grange and all those who will join us in the city once the boundary extension is enacted.

Many, but certainly not all, would have considered themselves in the city prior to then, such was their proximity to the old, outdated city/county lines. Much of the negative talk and hype around the city’s expansion was rooted in political expedience and self-preserving veneer.

I can assure all those now about to come and live within the city that they will benefit from being part of the capital of the Munster region.

I know that the benefits of being a part of the city will far outweigh the negative spin and that both the city and county can work hand in hand to ensure Cork – in its entirety - is the place in Ireland to live, work and visit.

This office will continue to do everything it can to prepare for and promote this new synergy in the 12 months ahead.

But as the city grows outwards, we need to mind its centre and keep our home-grown businesses there alongside the global giants; we need people living in our city and well as working there, we need to influence a change in national government in how rates are arrived at, try to address the escalating rent levels in the centre (which is more of a problem than high rates), constantly review our parking regimes and how the city is accessed, while continuing to tackle dereliction that has been a blight on our city but from which a new city is now rising.

It is now up to this new generation of Corkonians to follow the lead given by so many before us and work together to ensure Cork can realise all of its potential: a healthy city, a learning city, a sanctuary city and a welcoming city for everyone.

Cork must continue to work to be a safe haven for all of its people where food, shelter, education and opportunity are the preserve of all, not just the few.

I am honoured to be voted in as the first non-party lord mayor in generations, but I do so standing on the shoulders of many before me who did not get the chance. I think of Máirín Quill, Con O’Connell and others who worked hard for their constituencies and who would have relished the prospect of being Cork’s first citizen.

And while I am realistic enough to know that it will depend on how the numbers fall at the next election, I hope that this D’Hondt process will continue to allow those from other than the historically main parties to be involved in the decision-making process.

The old pact of a few has changed to a rotation of many and I think the result has made this council a more diverse one, reflecting the equally diverse nature of the population of the city. Whether or not the system extends into the new council following next year’s election remains to be seen but I believe the council has been strengthened, not weakened, by its differences.

This is a city with ambition and the years ahead are rich with promise. We’re all in this together...and as the city moves on we should – to again quote our former Lord Mayor – “be restless for noble and beautiful things…as it is how we work today will decide how we live tomorrow”.

To all our current citizens, those about to join us in the city and all those who visit or want to invest in Cork: we’re on the runway with a new trajectory plotted, come fly with us.

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