Cork County Council has elected its first twitcher (birdwatcher) to the role of County Mayor and he fittingly made green issues a major focus for his term in office.
Fianna Fáil’s Christopher O’Sullivan, who topped the poll in Skibbereen-West Cork last month, described his new role as the “greatest honour I have ever had”.
“I am a climate activist and this will be the year when this dominates,” he said after his election. “There is so much we can do and it needs to start here in the chamber.”
Fine Gael have the largest presence in the new council, with 20 of the 55 seats, and they proposed Noel McCarthy for mayor. But Fianna Fáil are close behind, on 18 and garnered enough support from others for Cllr O’Sullivan to claim the top job.
The Greens, Labour and Sinn Féin have two representatives each on the new council, with one Social Democrat councillor and the remaining seats held by Independents. Sinn Féin, the Green Party, the Social Democrats, and two Independents abstained and Mr O’Sullivan won by 27 votes to 21.
Returning Independent councillor Marcia D’Alton was one of the abstainers, as she does not approve of the negotiations that go on around such posts.
“As an Independent, I need to talk to everybody and work with everybody and I think the chamber should work in the same way,” she said. “I absolutely detest when politics drives this and I don’t think it is what the public wants.”
There was a full house in the council chamber in County Hall this morning, with many family members present to see loved ones take their places.
There were 23 new faces among the 55 councillors, with most of those taking their places for the first time.
For the first time in living memory there are a set of siblings on the Council. Existing councillor and former mayor John Paul O’Shea has been joined by his brother Tony O’Shea, who was elected in the Mallow area.
Outgoing Lord Mayor Patrick Gerard Murphy welcomed the new councillors and received praise from all sides for his year in office.
Independent Ben Dalton O’Sullivan, one of the youngest councillors at 19, said the more experienced representatives were very helpful to new arrivals, while the Green Party’s Alan O’Connor said he was swotting for the role.
“I’m doing a crash course at the moment, there’s a copy of the Local Government Act coming in the post!” he said.
Green Party colleague Liam Quaide said they would be working to ensure the council prioritised environmental issues.
“The UN has told us we face an existential threat and no country is going to be spared,” he said. “It is equally clear that every level of politics has to engage with this issue, right down to local level.”
They said transport, flood defences and regional planning would be priorities and said they hoped the Council would be ambitious in its moves to become greener.
Mr O’Sullivan is the fourth member of his family on the Council and has been there since he was co-opted in 2007, after his father won a seat in the Dáil. Independent councillor for Macroom Martin Coughlan was chosen as Deputy Mayor.