Cork County Mayor: I am an all or nothing person

CHRIS DUNNE catches up with County Mayor Cllr Mary Linehan Foley to talk about politics, her home town, and her ambitions for 2021
Cork County Mayor: I am an all or nothing person

Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley announcing the winners of her ‘A Real Cork Christmas’ postcard competition. Picture: Brian Lougheed

THERE was fierce pride in east Cork when Cllr Mary Linehan Foley was announced the Mayor of County Cork in 2020. She is the third woman to take up that role and the mother of five and grandmother of four has achieved a lot this year.

“I don’t look at the role as a job. I don’t ever find it tedious. I look at it as something that I love doing,” she says.

“I am a people person and I do work hard. I am an all or nothing person.

“In life I have faced many challenges, such as being a lone parent at a relatively young age. I feel these experiences have equipped me well to advance a vision to provide world class services and supports to communities and to try and make our county the best place in the world to live, work, visit, and do business.”

County Mayor, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley.
County Mayor, Cllr Mary Linehan Foley.

She strives to promote the town she loves so well. She grew up in the famous Youghal pub, Moby Dick’s that her parents, Paddy and Maureen, owned. Paddy was also a public representative for 26 years.

“With support from the local Chamber of Commerce, Business Alliance Youghal and Youghal 4 All, we hope the seasonal Christmas market we started in December will become a more regular feature of the town centre so that local producers and craftspeople can showcase their wares,” says Mary.

“The market adds a lovely atmosphere to the town centre and it will bring visitors here when they can travel freely again. The variety of stall-holders is fantastic; there is so much talent and creativity in east Cork.”

Youghal will enjoy a revival of old haunts.

“There are plans afoot to open up Moll Goggins Corner and Barry’s Lane, both historical landmarks in Youghal,” says Mary.

“We are looking at opening up the lighthouse to the public and creating a gallery inside it. Funding for the renovations to St Mary’s Collegiate Church is underway.”

Mary has had a lot of help from her friends.

“There are amazing people, local groups and local organisations who give of their time voluntarily for local projects such as beach cleaning, tidy towns, and community care,” she says.

 “It is great to see.”

We saw a great example of that for Ironman 2019.

“We sure did!” says Mary.

“The efforts of the people of Youghal welcoming Ironman to the town were just phenomenal.”

Mary sees huge potential in east Cork for tourism and attracting business to the area.

Cork County Mayor Cllr. Mary Linehan Foley pictured at Claycastle beach in her home town of Youghal, County Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Cork County Mayor Cllr. Mary Linehan Foley pictured at Claycastle beach in her home town of Youghal, County Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

“East Cork has so much to offer, I feel it can be promoted much more to attract visitors and business here,” says Mary.

“After Christmas, I am going around to all the hotels in east Cork to speak to the managers and the staff to discuss how we can achieve that in the New Year and try to promote staycations. The hotels have suffered a big loss of business this year due the pandemic.

“Visiting all the schools in the area and all the chambers is also on my agenda.”

Getting more young people and more women involved in politics and encouraging inclusion in local government is also on Mary’s agenda.

“My aim is to try and open up politics to people, to more young people and to more women,” says Mary. “I want to remove the mystery from it.”

She wants to remove the notion that politics is not for everyone.

“Getting involved in your local community is a great start,” says Mary.

She grew up in a house of politics, following in her father’s footsteps. Paddy Linehan was her mentor and her role model.

“It was just like any other house,” says Mary, who is an adoptee.

“My father was involved in politics for 43 years. Some houses were GAA, some were soccer — ours was politics.

“Paddy Linehan was a real people person. He loved people, he loved the bar.”

The political landscape changed over the years.

“In recent years we have seen considerable improvements across the board as regards improved diversity and inclusion,” says Mary.

“But we have not yet fully reached the 2019 target of a 30% proportion of women candidates. 

"In our region, we have been faring slightly better than others, in the south west constituency, 22.7% of seats were taken by women in the 2019 local elections. But we must make greater strides and it is important to play our part.

“I think it is important for people from all walks of life to be included and to be heard.

Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr. Mary Linehan Foley visiting Owenabue Arts Collective in Carrigaline. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Mayor of the County of Cork, Cllr. Mary Linehan Foley visiting Owenabue Arts Collective in Carrigaline. Picture: Brian Lougheed

“There are so many opportunities for women and minorities of all backgrounds to get involved in political life, and as a county, we have a wealth of education, ideas and energy that needs to be harnessed for the betterment of all our communities.”

Seeking opportunities and getting results means putting in a bit of grafting, doesn’t it?

“I believe hard work always pays off,” says Mary.

“And having a passion for people and to help people is a huge advantage.

“I do what I do because I have the passion and the desire to make a difference to citizens’ lives.”

Not for the perks?

Mary laughs.

“If I were in it for the money, I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now having a cup of coffee. I’d be out working at doing something else! I get paid €689 every two weeks, amounting to €16,000 a year. Half my phone bill is paid for me. If I didn’t have the passion for the job, I wouldn’t last.”

Mary got her strong work ethic from her mother, Maureen.

“My mother, from Slane, County Meath, was a very strong hard-working woman, she was the driver of our family,” says Mary. “She met dad in the Showboat dance hall in Youghal. There were 12 in her family. Mam was a great businesswoman and she built up the business over the years. Dad died young.”

She instilled in the young Mary that she could do anything. be anything.

“Many of my fellow councillors have degrees in engineering and in other professional fields,” says Mary. “I don’t have a degree.”

She has something more important.

“I have the knowledge that hard work pays off,” says Mary.

Does she ever switch off?

“My husband John gives out to me that I never switch off my phone and that I’m answering emails at 1am in the morning,” says Mary, smiling.

“If somebody’s in trouble, sometimes I’m the only one they can call.

“If I do switch off, I like nothing better than putting on my tracksuit and going for a walk along the board-walk in Youghal.”

She likes the view.

“It must be the most beautiful place in the world.”

What’s the most challenging part of her job?

“Securing funding for various projects,” says Mary.

“Every community feels their project is the most important and needs top priority. So there is a lot of work and a lot of time involved liaising with various relevant bodies to apply for and secure funding for East Cork projects. And there are hundreds of calls to be made! I have a great relationship with all 55 Cork county councillors and all party members. We’re all in it together,” the non-party councillor said.

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