The Cavan Belturbet area is one of the most politically diverse in the county as far as the Local Elections are concerned, with 11 candidates across four political parties and one independent runner. Issues too are varied and range from proposed school closures in West Cavan to rural broadband, the impact of Brexit on a Border area to housing, agriculture and health services.
SEAN MCMAHON profiles the candidates who will appear on your ballot paper on May 24...
Cllr Madeleine Argue (FG)
‘People Come First’
A Crubany native, Madeleine was first elected to Cavan County Council in 1999. The people of Cavan placed their trust in her again in 2004, 2009, and 2014.
More recently, in 2018, Cllr Argue was appointed Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council.
Married to Terry, they have four children - Niamh, Aoife, Daire and Diarmuid - and four grandchildren.
Cllr Argue feels she has been a strong, experienced voice on the council and, if re-elected, promises to continue to do by her motto ‘People come first’.
Her objectives include the further development of the tourism industry in the Cavan region and the timely rollout of the National Broadband Plan.
In a time of great uncertainty for farmers of this region, Cllr Argue says she will not be found wanting when supporting them. She pledges to continue to highlight their issues and concerns to her colleagues at national and European level.
The provision of social housing is an area in which Cllr Argue feels she has delivered previously and promises to do so again if re-elected.
She believes community services must secure more EU and Government funding, in particular, in rural areas.
Cllr Argue counts her role in the development of the Digital Hub in Cavan as one of her key achievements. “This development will provide a unique
advantage for businesses setting up in Cavan,” she said.
“If re-elected, I will continue to work for the people of Cavan as I have done in the past,” concluded Cllr Argue.
Cllr Damien Brady (SF)
Brexit, health and housing - top priorities
Sitting councillor Damien Brady has lived all his life in Ballyconnell. Married to Vanessa, they have three daughters - Aoife, Fianna and Dearbhla - and one granddaughter Blathnaid.
A member of Sinn Fein for the past 25 years, Cllr Brady has served in many positions within the organisation, including chairperson of Cavan Sinn Fein for three years. He has been elected for the past two terms and this is his third time to contest the Local Elections.
“During the past 10 years, I have worked hard on many issues for local people in the community in the Cavan/Belturbet Municipal District. This varied from health, education, road issues, agriculture, housing and many more. I am striving hard to work for the people who have put me in this position and resolving any problems they may have.”
Cllr Brady feels that concerns around the impact of Brexit on this Border area is a major issue, as are health and housing problems.
“Overcrowding in hospitals is unacceptable; housing and the number of people homeless in Ireland at the minute needs to be addressed with a comprehensive housing policy to address the current crisis in this area,” he said.
“I am currently working to try and improve access and facilities for people with mental health issues. This is a rising issue in all areas of the county at the minute and the lack of help out there for people experiencing these difficulties is unacceptable. We need to get more emphasis on it and get more help out there for people.”
Cllr Daniel Downey (SF)
‘My mission is to make sure people are supported’
Born in Moynehall outside Cavan Town, Daniel Downey has had a varied and dynamic career. From working as a carer to working with Non Government Organisations (NGOs) in Nepal and Myanmar, Daniel returned to his native Cavan in 2011. He has since worked as a development officer for local community groups.
Although housing and environment are two of Cllr Downey's core priorities, his main mission has been support of mental health services, particularly those tackling suicide.
“Our mental health is our real inner strength. When we have that, we can take on any challenge the world throws at us. My mission is to make sure people are supported to support themselves in time of need,” he said.
Since being co-opted as a councillor in 2017, Cllr Downey has become the first politician to walk the Camino Finisterre in Spain and will undertake an Arctic challenge walk to raise money for local mental health charities later this year.
“Being a politician is about being a verb, not a noun. You have to BE the change you want to see, not just talk about it. That’s why we do this in support of SOSAD, Darkness into Light, Sleep Out Cavan and The Asthma Society,” said Cllr Downey.
He added: “Help me to support those working to bring about a better way of living for those in need. A sense of wellbeing in community and in mind are my core aims for the people of Cavan. A vote for me is a choice to put those highest in priority.”
Brendan Fay (Ind):
‘Vote Fay in May for a strong voice’
Brendan Fay is the only independent candidate in this district. Originally from Redhills, he set up shop in the vibrant 'Widow’s Bar' on Belturbet’s Main Street 20 years ago. Married to Ailish, a primary school teacher in Killeshandra, they have two little boys, Dáithí (7) and Lorcán (4).
Brendan has been a strong community activist. He is a former chairperson of Rory O'Moores, Festival of the Erne director, SOSAD facilitator, member of the Erne Residents Association, chairman of Project Belturbet, as well as being involved in the Spring Parade and Save our Schools campaign.
“Belturbet and its rural surrounds have had no representation at County Council level for 10 years. I want to press the case for CCTV, and neighbourhood watch, more Garda resources to be deployed in the local area to tackle the onslaught of burglaries and drug crime, which is on the rise,” he said.
Mr Fay wants to be a “strong voice” for the area and is also campaigning for the retention of local services such as post offices and St Mogue's and St Bricin's secondary schools.
He's also seeking to: “Tackle the post code lottery in relation to waiting lists for assessments and respite care, which is scandalous; and promote local employment and tourism of this vastly beautiful area.”
The review of commercial rates and
upgrade of community facilities are also on his wish list.
“As your candidate I will strive to continue to work tirelessly to uplift our area which has suffered terribly through neglect and austerity over the past decade.”
Cllr John Paul Feeley (FF)
Govt removed from lives of ordinary people
Solicitor John Paul Feeley has served as a member of Cavan County Council since 2007.
He is currently chair of the Enterprise and Economic SPC, the JPC, and of the Geopark Joint Operational Committee.
From Blacklion, Cllr Feeley is involved at community level with Shannon Gaels GAA Club, Killinagh Community Council, Kilmore Diocesan Pastoral Council, Cavan Civil Defence and the St Vincent de Paul.
Cllr Feeley counts among his achievements over the past term the rollout of Town & Village Renewal funds and plans, the development of Cavan Digital Hub and Smarter Travel initiative.
“The big challenge however is a lack of commitment and resources from Government. That is why we are falling behind on issues such as the condition of our roads and the massive back-log under the Local Improvement Scheme, the provision of environmental services, the taking in-charge of estates and the resourcing of community facilities,” he contends. He's calling for greater financial resources for Cavan County Council to deliver projects and services locally. Cllr Feeley also believes that families deserve better support to cope with mortgage repayments and rising costs such as insurance, transport and childcare. “Parents also have to pay extortionate rents for children away in college. These are all costs directly impacted by government policy, but government seems very removed from the lives of ordinary people at the moment,” he said.
If re-elected, he promises to be a strong voice: “There is much work that remains to be done and, with the people’s support, it is work that I hope to continue over the years ahead.”
Sean McKiernan (FG):
Education ‘key’ to attracting inward investment
Having failed to retain his seat in the last election in the Bailieborough Cootehill area, Sean McKiernan (37) is “hugely honoured” to be running this election for Fine Gael in the Cavan Belturbet MD.
Previously, Mr McKiernan was Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council and chairman of the Cavan Monaghan Education Training Board (CMETB). He is also a former development officer for Mental Health Ireland, and currently works as a self-employed communications and HR consultant.
“I have wide experience as a voluntary board member in the areas of education, mental health, childcare and social housing provision.
“I intend to put this community and voluntary experience, along with my previous experience as a county councillor in Bailieborough and on Cavan/Monaghan VEC/ETB, to work for the good of all the people of the Cavan-Belturbet Electoral Area,” he said.
“I am very committed to ensuring a high quality education for our young people, and providing a diverse skills base to grow local industry and attract inward investment,” continued Mr McKiernan, who is also a current member of the board of Breifne College.
“I lobbied for many years for its €10 million extension [Breifne College]. I also want to see Cavan Institute’s facilities and resources expanded so that it continues to be an economic engine for Cavan Town and county,” said Mr McKiernan, setting out his stall.
Cllr Peter McVitty (FG):
‘Survival of rural communities’ a priority
Having first been elected in 1999, this will be Cllr Peter McVitty's fourth local election. Married to Susan, they have three children and five grandchildren. An experienced politician, he previously served as Cathaoirleach in 2006-07.
In 1988, Peter established McVitty Transport and Warehousing, which currently employs 12 full-time workers. He is a member of the Board of Management of St Mogue's College in Bawnboy and St Bricin's, Belturbet. He is also a member of the HSE regional committee, the GEOPark, the Council’s Tenders Committee, and Ballyconnell District Development.
“If re-elected on May 24, I will continue to work towards a better health care system, with particular focus on extra beds in our hospital wards; the upgrading of vacant houses in housing estates in Cavan Town to accommodate families on the Social Housing list and continued road infrastructure funding for the Cavan/Belturbet MD,” he outlines. “The survival of rural communities is also a priority. Continued funding in this field to local voluntary community groups, sports groups, festival committees etc will rejuvenate our rural areas, and make them attractive for people to live and work,” says Cllr McVitty.
Emmett Smith (S-PBP):
Public housing only solution to housing crisis
A community activist from Ballyhaise, currently living in Cavan Town, Mr Smith studied Political Science and Sociology at NUI Galway, and now works in the CG Power Systems factory, where he is an active trade unionist and area representative.
In 2015, Mr Smith was an organiser and spokesperson for the Cavan campaign against water charges. He then ran for General Election in 2016 to promote the Right2Change movement. More recently, he was one of the founding members of Cavan Pro-Choice, and actively campaigned for the Repeal of the 8th Amendment.
Tackling the housing crisis is his top priority, and is an active organiser with the Cavan Housing Action campaign, having fought alongside people being evicted into homelessness. “People cannot afford rising rents. There are almost 1,000 people waiting on the council housing list. People are sick of empty and boarded up houses, both council houses and private houses, in communities where people are crying out for somewhere to live,” he said.
Mr Smith was previously on the Board of Directors of Cavan PPN and Breifne Integrated Ltd; and was also Cavan's community representative on the North East Regional Drug and Alcohol Taskforce.
Cllr Sean Smith (FF):
‘Serious decline’ in rural Ireland
A brother of Deputy Brendan Smith TD, a candidate in the European Elections, Cllr Smith has served as Cathaoirleach of Cavan County Council on two occasions. He has also served on national bodies, and is at present a member of the North and West Regional Assembly (NWRA) and the Geopark Cross Border Committee.
Cllr Smith is also active in local voluntary organisations including Templeport Development Association, Bawnboy Workhouse Committee, Bawnboy Tidy Towns Committee and a member of the Save Our Schools Committee, which opposes the closure of St Mogue’s and St Bricin’s Colleges and is working to retain both schools. “The serious decline in rural Ireland is a source of major concern - towns and villages losing services, we need to retain our smaller schools, roll out adequate broadband for homes and businesses and upgrade the road network.
“Beef sector faces particular challenges and needs government support. CAP must be reformed and adequate funding provided. The government must introduce aid programmes to assist sectors damaged by Brexit uncertainty. Other issues include cutbacks in home help services, long hospital waiting lists, lack of mental health services, escalating insurance costs and illegal dumping,” he said.
An experienced councillor, Cllr Smith is committed to continue working for the betterment of his electoral area. “With your support it would be an honour to continue to work for all of the people of this Municipal District.”
Liam van der Spek (Lab):
A new deal for urban centres
Data engineer Liam van der Spek is honoured to be running for election for the first time for the Labour party.
Having grown up in Cavan, Mr van der Spek attended St Patrick’s College, Cavan, and has a degree in Computer Science from UCD.
“I firmly believe everyone should be entitled to dignity at work, a decent standard of living, and meaningful time to enjoy the important things in life. National challenges like our housing crisis and climate change drive me to get involved in politics. Our local government has a vital role to play in solving these problems,” he told the Celt.
“Our towns deserve a new lease of life. Complaints about empty properties and poorly-kept estates come up on the doors all the time. I want to see our urban centres in Cavan, Belturbet and Ballyconnell looking vibrant and well maintained, our housing estates provided for with amenities for young people, and a proper supply of social and affordable housing,” continued Mr van der Spek.
The young Labour candidate is also keen to see more green initiatives like greenways and bike share schemes, as well as the expansion of the local link bus service to provide sustainable transport alternatives.
“High-speed broadband and the new Digital Hub allow us to develop new modern businesses. Ensuring our towns are appealing places to live and start families is a key part of attracting new workers.
“It’s critical that the Ireland we build from this point forward is one where we’re all valued and included. I’m excited to see Cavan not just survive, but really prosper,” concluded Mr van der Spek.
Patricia Walsh (FF):
‘Local government means looking after local needs’
A resident fo St Martin's Estate, Patricia is married to Patsy and they have five children and 11 grandchildern.
Having lived and worked in Cavan Town all her life, Ms Walsh is a proud Cavan woman deeply rooted in her community.
She previously served on both Cavan Town Council and Cavan County Council with the honour of being Mayor of Cavan Town on two occasions.
“I have worked very hard to represent the people of Cavan to the best of my ability and I will continue to do so.
“Anyone who knows me, knows that I am steeped in my community. From being chairperson of Tullacmongan Resource Centre to the various cross-border initiatives, which seek to foster peace and harmony - I want to see our community thrive,” she said.
“Local government means looking after local needs and that is what I intend to do. If elected I will be a strong voice for our community on important issues such as housing, healthcare, childcare and crime. I will work to improve the quality of our community infrastructure – litter, lighting, roads, traffic and recreation facilities – all issues which affect every single area.
“Cavan is the place I call home and I hate to see it get left behind. Let me be your voice and I will endeavour to help us build a strong and positive future which we can all be proud of,” concluded Ms Walsh.