FIANNA Fáil TD James O’Connor might be the youngest member of Dáil Éireann, but he certainly has big ambitions.
His election ahead of his running mate and sitting TD at the time Kevin O’Keeffe was a surprise to many. However, since his election, he has regularly highlighted in the Dáil the many challenges East Cork faces.
His priority, he said, was to represent his constituents on issues such as school capacity and the development of the N25.
He added: “My focus is on getting re-elected and continuing to do good work for Cork East. In the future, I would be honoured to serve at a ministerial level at some point in my career.”
He has already been appointed party spokesperson on transport and said: “Road funding is a critical issue for Cork county as significant underfunding has taken place in recent years and significant increases are required. I have been working with the Department of Transport to advocate for improvements to the N25 between Midleton and Youghal, including the creation of relief roads at Castlemartyr and Killeagh.”
Mr O’Connor added: “The Midleton to Youghal greenway has also received significant funding in one of the first acts of the government.
“This comes alongside significant funding for Cork county under the National Transport Authority’s sustainable transport measures. I will work closely with the relevant departments to ensure that these developments proceed on time.”
School capacity is also of significant importance to him and he has been working with Norma Foley, the education minister, to progress a number of projects including “the Carrigtwohill school campus development and the rebuilding of the Patrician Academy in Mallow, after the fire it suffered in 2016”.
In recent days, he also announced that Coláiste Muire in Cobh would receive a significant investment from the Department of Education this year.
He said that Covid-19 had been a very challenging time for people and it has had a large impact on the political system as a whole.
“There are many challenges facing the community and it has been difficult to be on the ground and meet people in the community. While we have adapted to these challenges by engaging through other channels such as Zoom, I do hope that the traditional system of community engagement can return,” Mr O’Connor said.
He also said it has made it difficult to introduce himself to people and he explained that Covid-19 has changed his role as TD from the traditional expectation.
“There are no in-person clinics. It is difficult to introduce yourself as a first-time public representative to new people and, in particular, those who have been adversely impacted by Covid-19. I would encourage them to get in contact with my office and make that initial contact. We are here to help.”
Asked for his reflections on the Covid-19 pandemic and how it had been handled, Mr O’Connor said: “It has been a challenging time for families right across Ireland. There have been many changes to lives and livelihoods. It is frightening the damage that it has done across the country.
“It has also had an impact on how members of the Oireachtas can react to the situation. The reduced sittings have made it difficult to interact with other members and, in particular, with ministers. It is critical that we, as representatives, have the ability to highlight issues to ministers and I would like to see more done on this where possible.
“There are many challenges to being in government, but there are also many benefits. The goal is to deliver for people in the constituency that we represent and I will continue to advocate for systems that allow public representatives to do this effectively.”
Regarding the future of Fianna Fáil, Mr O’Connor said the party must deliver in Government.
“We have a robust Programme for Government. We must get through and overcome Covid-19. We are currently still in the fog of the pandemic. We need to restore normality to Government.
“There has been unforeseeable stress placed on our departments and on our Cabinet. Such strains are not good for democracy.
“I hope that we can return to a proactive approach to Government, where we can make progress beyond Covid-19, so we can go on to build a better and brighter society.”