Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF), Cathaoirleach, Cavan County Council.

Faith of our fathers

PROUD Blacklion’s John Paul Feeley elected Cathaoirleach

Almost a quarter of a century after the late Eddie Feeley was first elevated as the county’s First Citizen, his son John Paul followed in those same footsteps when elected as Cathaoirleach at the council’s AGM last Monday afternoon (June 13).

It proved a landmark changing of the guard - the chain of office passing from Kingscourt’s Clifford Kelly, first elected to Cavan County Council in 1985, to his young party colleague, first co-opted to the chamber following his father’s retirement in 2007.

“Every time I walk into this Chamber, I’m conscious of the honour it is to have been elected here, and the privilege it is to serve the people of our county,” remarked Cllr Feeley in his acceptance speech, watched proudly from the back of the room by his mother Patsy, new wife Niamh, brothers, and their families.

“The main reason I’m here as a councillor is, of course, the example I had at home in my father who represented our community here for 22 years and who served twice as Cathoirleach (1996-97/ 2005-06).

“I am very privileged to try to follow his example. If I have one regret, it is that this opportunity did not arise during his lifetime but I hope that he is proud today.”

Speaking to the Celt after, and brimming with delight, Cllr Feeley’s mum Patsy, said it was a “great honour” for the Blacklion family.

“In some ways, he was born for it,” she said of her son’s grá for politics. “Eddie was in politics all his life, and [John Paul] never strayed too far from that once he came along. He always had a keen interest, and he does his best night and day for the people. He loves his area.”

Cllr Feeley used his first opportunity to speak as Cathaoirleach to address current issues, chief among them the “huge cost of living crisis” and the “spectre of Brexit”, but also the reopening of society post-pandemic, as well as the need to “improve the status of councillors” in terms of pay and remuneration.

“If we are to have strong, effective and representative local government into the future, ensuring there are proper supports for councillors is essential but so too is ensuring the councillors have a real input into decision making at every level.”

He lamented how sometimes the local authority did not “do enough” to show the work carried out by them in every community in our county. “Our logo should not be hidden at the bottom it should be front and centre,” adding: “People are entitled to see that Cavan County Council are at the heart of all these initiatives.”

Cllr Feeley is conscious the next year will mark an important period with a number of anniversaries coming to pass - the 50th anniversary of the Belturbet Bombing; 80th anniversary of the fire in St Joseph’s Orphanage; the 75th anniversary of the Polo Grounds All-Ireland of 1947; and marking the 100th anniversary of the formation of An Garda Síochana.

“Cavan County Council will play a leading role in marking these significant events in the life of our county,” stated Cllr Feeley, who during his tenure hopes to see also significant progress made on a number of major investments for the county.

“Whether it be roads, housing or local improvement schemes we have to ensure that no one is left behind,” he assured.

An emotional Clifford Kelly paid tribute to his own family for making it possible for him to apply himself to the role of Cathaoirleach over the past 12 months. “It hasn’t been easy,” he said referring to the health difficulties endured by his wife Betty.

Like the late Cllr Feeley, Cllr Kelly has held the honour of Cathaoirleach twice, between 1998-99 and latterly 2021-22.

Composing himself again, Cllr Kelly said he was “delighted” to handover the chain to Cllr Feeley. He relayed also, as many of his fellow elected members did in their own tributes, a confidence that Cllr Feeley would do an “excellent job” representing the county.

The elected masse had praised Cllr Kelly for his fairness while in the chair, with many remarking on his incredible energy and dedication to commit his time to attending as many functions as possible after Covid restrictions had eased.

Chief Executive Tommy Ryan said he looked forward to working with Cllr Feeley over the coming year, and Cllr Kelly had “earned a well deserved rest”. To laughter in the chamber, he quickly added: “... but I don’t think he’ll take that.”

Cllr Feeley’s election to Cathoirleach was proposed by Sean Smith, and seconded by Patricia Walsh, who herself was elected to the position of Leas-Cathaoirleach, proposed by Cllr Smith, and seconded by Aiden Fitzpatrick.

Cllr Walsh meanwhile is set to be elected Cathaoirleach also at the AGM of Cavan-Belturbet Municipal District, the meeting to take place on Thursday, June 16.

With Independent Shane P O’Reilly elected Chair of the Ballyjamesduff MD on Monday last by drawing names from a hat (see page 10), Aiden Fitzpatrick is expected to take on the role of chair in the Bailieborough-Cootehill MD, the AGM taking place shortly after this newspaper went to print yesterday afternoon (Tuesday).