LAST June, Ballincollig-based Fianna Fáil councillor Colm Kelleher became the first lord mayor to be elected off City Hall’s campus.
He is also the first lord mayor from the new expanded city, the first lord mayor who is a past pupil of Coláiste Choilm, and the first lord mayor to make a TikTok video. Discussing his year as lord mayor, the “highlight” of his professional career, Mr Kelleher casts his mind back to that historic election night on June 18.
The Cork City Council AGM took place at Coláiste Choilm, in Ballincollig, to facilitate social distancing, which would not have been possible in the traditional council chamber and because City Hall’s concert hall was being used as a vaccination centre.
“To be elected lord mayor in my hometown in Ballincollig, and to be the first lord mayor ever to be elected outside of City Hall, in my alma mater, it was really special,” Mr Kelleher said.
“We have a bit of catching up to do on the North Mon — 15 past pupils there have gone on to become lord mayor — but I’m delighted to say I’ve started it now.”
His term was a “whirlwind 12 months” of which he has “enjoyed every single moment,” Mr Kelleher said. “To have the honour of wearing the same chain that Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney wore is something that will live with me for the rest of my days.”
One of the highlights of his term was ‘Nonfire Night’ last year, where events were held to encourage people to celebrate Bonfire Night differently, and Mr Kelleher recorded a TikTok video when chatting to youngsters on the city’s northside.
“I think I’m the first lord mayor to do a TikTok! That was a nice highlight, because my own children would relate to social media and that type of thing.”
In March, Mr Kelleher led a delegation to the US. “We went to New York, Washington, DC, and San Francisco — our sister city.
“Obviously, the links between San Francisco and the city date back over 40 years, so they’re very strong, but we opened up bilateral relations with Washington, DC, and we’re on the verge of signing a memorandum of understanding with Washington, DC, a friendship agreement.
“It’s kind of unique, because Washington, DC, is obviously the capital of the US and they don’t do friendship agreements or twinnings or sister city programmes with other cities that aren’t capitals.”
Also during his mayoralty he led a naval flotilla from Haulbowline up to the city’s quays on National Services Day.
“What was very nice, and was a personal moment for me, was my son was with me and it was just myself and himself up the very bow of the ship on our own, no cameras, and he just turned to me and said, ‘This is cool, isn’t it?’ That’s a memory that will live with me until the day I go to my grave.”
In his mayoral speech last June, Mr Kelleher had said leading the recovery of the city’s economy, as we learned to live with Covid-19, was a key priority for him.
“I believe that we bounced back fairly quickly post Covid. Obviously, no one could have foreseen that we would be dealing with inflationary levels not seen in 30/40 years.
“That’s having an effect on all walks of society,” Mr Kelleher said, when asked about where he feels the city is on that recovery journey.
“From an economic-recovery point of view, I believe that we were going in the right way and we’ve now hit a stumbling block on the road, but it’s not unmanageable and it’s not unsolvable and I know that the Government will be bringing more measures in October in relation to the cost of living.
“I’ve spoken to my colleagues in government and they are looking at everything to try to alleviate the burden on the average worker, who, effectively, during inflationary times, bears the brunt of it,” he continued.
Another key theme of Mr Kelleher’s mayoralty has been to increase awareness of addiction and recovery and he has spoken publicly about his brother’s recovery from heroin addiction.
He has also supported a campaign to get a supervised injection centre for the city, something he believes is “not a silver bullet”, but is a “major part of the jigsaw” in tackling the heroin problem.
Such a facility, Mr Kelleher said, is “not society condoning drug use”, but about supporting individuals “who are at their tethers end” and that wraparound services are also crucial.
“I’ve written to the health minister,” Mr Kelleher said.
“He has responded to me. It’s being actively looked at in the Department of Health and I’ve spoken with the health minister privately in relation to this and I’m receiving support from Dublin in relation to it. The funding [needed] is approximately €1.5m per annum.”
“It’s not going to be in someone’s back garden; it’s not going to be on a street corner. This is going to be a medical-supervised injection facility that’s going to be based on a medical campus, in one of our medical campuses around the city — whether that’s in the northside or the southside, that’s for the HSE to decide and for them to put in a planning application with Cork City Council.
“Obviously, the one in Dublin hit a stumbling block in relation to planning issues with that. I’ve spoken with colleagues of mine on Dublin City Council and their crusade, the same as ours, is firing ahead and a medical-supervised injection facility is coming to Dublin and I’m fairly confident that one will be forthcoming in Cork as well.
“It’s not a case of Dublin gets it and then we see how it does; we have the same problems that Dublin has and we have our own local authority to deal with our city’s problem,” he said.
Mr Kelleher has vowed to continue to lobby for such a centre after his mayoralty.
Ahead of tomorrow’s election, Mr Kelleher offers the following advice to the incoming lord mayor: “Everyone is pulling off you in all directions and they all want an equal amount of attention, but you just have to learn what’s right for you as an individual and what’s right for your team in your mayoralty.
“Be yourself and enjoy every minute of it, because it goes in the blink of an eye.”