THE new Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Colm Kelleher has said he is confident the city can “bounce back and better” post-Covid.
The Ballincollig-based Fianna Fáil councillor, who was elected on Friday evening at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Cork City Council, has said his key priority for the year will be leading the city’s economic recovery.
“My overall theme will be recovery post-Covid but not a recovery to where we were — recovery in the sense of a new, reimagined city,” he told The Echo.
“Of course, public health is paramount but I do believe that as we come out of this we need to focus on getting people back into the city, back working in the city, to revitalise it, to attract more foreign direct investment into the city and to breathe economic recovery back into the city centre as a whole.
“Some businesses, unfortunately, won’t be returning but for the ones that are we need to ensure that they have every assistance possible, not only from central government but from City Hall and people in general.”
The new Lord Mayor spoke about the toll Covid-19 has taken on Cork City Council’s revenue streams.
“Local authorities have been heavily subsidised by Government during this pandemic and we were severely inhibited in utilising our traditional revenue streams — car parks, for example… you wouldn’t believe how much of the city’s capital budget has been focused on the income [from] car parks.
“We’re heavily dependent on our own revenue streams, we’re a self-funding local authority but we can only be self-funding if the economic recovery takes place.
“Vacant units within the city need to be filled by viable businesses.
“Businesses have been given the restart grants from central government implemented through the local authorities and the recovery package that will be coming from central government in the summer, I’m led to believe, will be something similar to inject a sense of urgency back into retail, into our pharma industry and into our multi-nationals that are here and our indigenous businesses as well.”
Looking ahead to the future in Cork, Mr Kelleher said he is optimistic about the vision for the city.
“Pre-Covid we were on the cusp of developing our full potential as a city — we still are.
“We have the largest regeneration in northern Europe with the docklands.
“You see the amount of planning applications going in for office and apartment blocks in the city.
“There’s massive potential to be tapped into here and we just need to ensure that we utilise every weapon within our arsenal to makes sure that it happens.
“Going forward, I would be very hopeful and very optimistic that we can bounce back and better [post-Covid] — put ourselves in a better position than where we were let’s say in November/December of 2019.”
Mr Kelleher, who became actively involved in local politics at a party level within Fianna Fáil in 2015, was elected to Cork City Council in 2019.
“The big overarching issue really that incentivised me to get into politics was, as a business owner in Ballincollig and becoming more well-known in my community, more actively involved in my community, there was the big issue of the boundary extension a number of years ago.
“There was a lot of resistance within Ballincollig at the time.
“I felt if I wanted to make a real impact in my community that I should put my name forward for public office and thankfully the Fianna Fáil party selected me to run in November of 2018 and I was successful in the subsequent election in May 2019.”
Aside from his role as a city councillor and now Cork’s Lord Mayor, Mr Kelleher is also the co-owner of a successful business, Kelleher Tyres.
“I’m actually a qualified carpenter by trade.
“I was involved in the building industry a number of years ago and due to the economic crash in 2008/2009 a company which I co-owned with my brother collapsed almost overnight.
“We were left facing a real challenge in what we would do with ourselves.
“I spent a brief time in Canada working on building sites — I had full intentions of emigrating permanently and I lasted four and a half weeks! I got homesick and decided to come home. It was a blessing in disguise though because I met the mother of my children [after] and I have two beautiful children, Adam and Emily Rose. I often thought if I never came back, I wouldn’t have the children I have today.
“When I came back after my emigration for four and a half weeks I still faced the same challenges.
“There was no work there in my trade. Myself and my brothers, we sat down and we decided to open up a business selling tyres.”
Slowly by surely, the business began to establish itself and there are now three branches across the city and county.
Last month Kelleher Tyres celebrated 12 years in business.
Stepping into the role of Lord Mayor, Mr Kelleher said he is “humbled and honoured” to represent the city.
He also took the opportunity to pay tribute to his predecessor, Fine Gael councillor Joe Kavanagh.
“I have to commend Joe. He brought such a commendable sense of dignity to the role and he made history by chairing the first virtual meeting of Cork City Council.
“In particular, how he conducted himself and represented the city during the virtual centenary commemoration of the Burning of Cork — I thought he was absolutely amazing.”
Bound by a promise he made long ago to an influential figure in his life, Mr Kelleher said he is determined to give his very best as Lord Mayor.
“I would have been very close to my late grandmother Eileen McAuliffe.
“She was a businesswoman on Perry Street in Cork city for a number of years.
“She had a furniture shop there.
“I would have spent a lot of my youth in there on a Saturday working in the shop and then home to Mallow with her.
“Sadly, she passed away in 2008 but being a business owner on Perry Street she was more often than not in contact with council for various issues and she used to say to me ‘if you ever make it to City Hall, go in there and sort them out’. Well look all I can say is I’m going to try my best!”