What a difference a year has made for Fianna Fáil councillor Tom McNamara. It was around 12 months ago that he lay on a hospital bed awaiting surgery, his life in the balance — today he is Mayor of Clare and very thankful to have been given a second chance.
Not quite though! Phil Hogan did away with the title of Mayor in his Reform of Local Government but Tom Mac wants it returned. Having spoken to colleagues who have held the office in recent years, he believes the cumbersome Cathaoirleach title takes a lot of explaining while ‘Mayor’ is instantly recognisable the world over.
A popular choice to wear the chain of office, Tom McNamara succeeded Bill Chambers at the local authority’s annual general meeting on Friday. His election was no surprise after a 2014 agreement allocated the chairman’s job to John Crowe (FG), James Breen (Ind), Bill Chambers (FF), Tom McNamara (FF) and finally to Michael Begley (Ind).
The public gallery was packed with family, friends and well-wishers as Cllr Pat Daly proposed his Fianna Fáil colleague for the role and joked that Tom is instrumental in having new public toilets built in Kilmaley, “Not alone will he be able to use the toilet but he will probably have the honour of opening it as well.”
A brother of the late Fr Michael McNamara, who served for many years as a curate in Shannon, Cllr McNamara was elected to the council in 2009 and is the first Kilmaley man elected chairman of Clare County Council since Martin Cahill who served from 1974-79. Members of the Cahill family were present for the occasion.
In his acceptance speech Cllr McNamara said he was deeply privileged and honoured to assume the role of Clare’s first citizen. He acknowledged the influential role played by his late brother, Fr Michael, who encouraged him to stand for election in 2009, and the support of wife Mary and sons, Stephen and Kevin.
Setting out his goal as Cathaoirleach for the coming year, Cllr McNamara said he hopes to contribute positively to the council working as a cohesive unit in the best interest of all the citizens of County Clare. Having been heavily involved in community development over the years, Cllr McNamara is delighted to be Cathaoirleach at a time when the council is finalising a Rural Development Strategy.
He added, “I come from Kilmaley, the largest parish in the Diocese of Killaloe. Being such a large parish, you would imagine it would be one of the most populated in Clare. That is not the case however, and consequently a widely distributed population in a large geographical area creates its own problems. Thanks to the voluntary efforts of the local community, such problems have been addressed in Kilmaley over the past quarter of a century, particularly since the establishment of Meitheal, the Kilmaley Development Association.
“The people of Kilmaley have come together to ensure that the highest possible standard of life and an expansive range of community facilities are provided on our doorstep. These developments include a community crèche, a voluntary housing complex of 24 sheltered houses, a daycare centre as well as a sports complex which includes a playground, an astro-turf all weather facility and GAA pitches.”
Cllr McNamara expressed the view that a sustainable, healthy and vibrant community can only be created and maintained through the leadership and drive of the people who live in that community. He believes a forthcoming Rural Development Strategy will encourage communities to take ownership of their own future, while availing of existing supports and expertise.
Cllr McNamara said that as Clare’s first citizen, he is particularly conscious of the representative role he must play both at home and abroad over the coming year. “Finally and once again,” he said, “I want to thank you my colleagues for handing me this honour. This is my proudest day as an elected member and I look forward to representing my family, the parish of Kilmaley, this Council and all the people of County Clare during my term as Cathaoirleach.”