“I HAVE a very simple ethos. Community, to me, comes way before politics. I get killed for that sometimes, but community comes first and I have always operated that way.”
That’s the mantra of the recently elected Lord Mayor, Councillor Joe Kavanagh.
Having been co-opted to Cork City Council in 2011, he was elected in 2014, and re-elected in 2019, but helping people — especially in his local community — is something he’s always been involved in.
“As my wife said to me, if I walk down the street and there’s a door open and there’s a committee meeting on inside, I’d end up on the committee,” he laughed.
“I have always, for as long as I can remember, been involved with groups of some description. I was always an organiser.
“I used to play a lot of tennis — that’s how I met my wife. I was a tennis coach and played in Rushbrooke and was tournament director there. When I was 18 I was running adult tournaments. When I was 12 I was on the junior committee.”
His family are adapting well to his new role as Cork’s first citizen however, with his grandson his biggest fan.
Married to Stephanie and living in Montenotte, the couple have two sons, Glenn and Phillip, and one grandchild, Theo.
“He calls me ‘gandad’. He saw me on television last week and he nearly went through the tv screen,” the Lord Mayor laughed.
As for his wife, and now Lady Mayoress, Stephanie, the Lord Mayor said she has always been a private person, but is a source of great support.
“I call her Minister for Good Ideas. I don’t always tell her, but she’s always right.
“She’s a people’s person 100%, and she’s brilliant at that sort of thing, so she does take an awful lot of pressure off of me if we go somewhere,” he said. This term as Lord Mayor could potentially be very different to other years gone by due to the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, but Mr Kavanagh is ploughing ahead.
“I don’t let grass grow under my feet, much to the joy of the officials here.”
The annual visits to schools will be going ahead this year, however, what shape they’ll take is yet unknown.
Many centenary commemorations have been cancelled, but “we’re going ahead with what we can between now and year end.”
He is also changing the artwork in his meeting room to “reflect the commemoration but also to reflect the fact that we are a harbour city.”
He is very passionate about the environment, and litter picks every two weeks with his local Tidy Towns group. A ‘Cork against litter’ campaign is also in the pipeline.
“A clean city is a city that is attractive to tourists. It sends out a positive message and I think we’re all obliged to maintain our local communities and areas.”
The awakening of Cork business is another of the Lord Mayor’s main interests for this term of office. Since his election on June 12, he has been proactively going out to businesses and calling local chambers to offer support.
He described local businesses as “the blood that flows through the veins of our city.”
“I went walkabout two weeks ago around Cork city for an hour and a half and called to 12 different businesses. I spoke to lots of business owners in the Oliver Plunkett Street and Patrick’s Street area, and asked them what were the key challenges that they’re facing.
“We are duty bound to offer the hand of co-operation to businesses. I’m very mindful of how difficult local businesses are finding it at the moment, restarting and so on.
“Lots of retail shops have closed down. They need us now as local communities like they never needed us before,”
However, he said that City Hall are being as helpful as they can. The rates waiver assisted local businesses, while the Council waived the fees for on-street furniture — an idea that has borne fruit, particularly on Prince’s Street.
“Cork, in fairness, is very resilient. Cork is bringing the continent to Cork and creating a continental feel in the city centre,” he said.
The Lord Mayor also pointed to hotels such as the Maldron and the Imperial on South Mall who are availing of street furniture, while on the northside, the Metropole has made full use of the pedestrianisation of Harley Street opening a small coffee and crepe bar.
“Once again, that’s innovation coming to the fore in Cork. When innovation comes to the fore like that, you’re creating a different reason for people to go somewhere different. Whereas before you would say ‘why would I go to Harley Street?’.
“Harley Street is pedestrianised and is going to remain pedestrianised. They’re also looking at the possibility of looking at putting in stalls there for a market.”
The Lord mayor also told The Echo that the reinvention of Patrick’s Street is the key to its revitalization, following the closure of a number of outlets on the street.
“Patrick’s Street used to be a retail quarter, but now possibly, should we reconsider it being just a retail quarter? Should there be a mix there of retail and hospitality?
“You need an attraction in there — a nice restaurant, possibly a Food Hall in the centre of Patrick’s Street where people can go, sit down and have a coffee. You need some reason for people to want to go to Patrick’s Street.”
He has called on people to make submissions to the Cork City development plan which will see ideas and opinions from the public on Cork’s future development.
The Lord Mayor said that a number of plans are on the table, including a bridge across the river to alleviate traffic on the Lower Glanmire Road. “There were plans years ago for a bridge to go across the river and come out by Páirc Uí Chaoimh. That’s part of the plan for future development to get people to avoid going up Horgan’s Quay.
“Our roads infrastructure is part of the development of Cork city. I think it’s of critical importance that we do be mindful of the roads infrastructure in Cork.”
He also stressed the importance of cycle lanes and infrastructure for public transport also. However, the “restricted streetscape” is something that must be taken into account.
“I think cycle lanes are very important, but we also have to accommodate pedestrians, cars to an extent, and public transport. Plus, there are business vehicles — vans delivering to shops early in the morning — they have to be able to get around.
“While Cork City Council would love to put two cycles on the right, and two on the left, and bus lanes and room for cars and trucks and pedestrians, sometimes it’s not always possible.
“Safety is very important. Walking, cycling, and public transport are of key importance in the city centre and people being able to get from A to B without clogging up the city.
“If it takes too long on public transport, people are just going to jump into cars. Not everybody wants to cycle a bike.
“I might think something is a good idea, but just because I think it is, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for the general public. You have to have options for everybody.”