“I am a new face for change. I’ll stand up and be counted. I’ve got the right attitude and I believe I can a win seat,” declared Independent John Leahy to roars of approval and a standing ovation at his campaign launch.
Over two hundred supporters gathered in the County Arms Hotel, Birr last Friday evening for the event.
The Ferbane Electoral Area representative, who was first elected in June ’09, added, “I indicated my intent to gain election six months ago when two very profile TD’s were still in the race, Deputy Olwyn Enright and An Taoiseach Brian Cowen. I believed back then I could win a seat. That’s how strong I felt and my attitude hasn’t changed. I’m passionate and with my loyal group of canvassers and supporters we can achieve change. I’m not just contesting an election I’m going to win an election.”
Cllr Leahy blamed the ‘party whip’ system for the closure of Kilcormac, Daingean and Banagher Fire Stations.
“I will be an independent voice for the people and I won’t be governed by a party whip, a system which led to the closure of three fire stations in this county. Some of my council colleagues voted or abstained as dictated to and a crucial vote was lost by one and there are many people in this room still very angry.”
Suicide prevention was a strong theme of his address. “We can’t ignore mental health and the issue of suicide prevention. In 2010 there were seven road deaths in Laois/Offaly but thirty people lost their lives through suicide in the same period. We’ve a high profile national TV campaign encouraging road safety and trying to reduce the number of roads deaths but what are we doing about mental health especially for our youngsters? I attended an excellent workshop on the subject of suicide prevention in Belmont. There were many adults present but I feel we need to do much more to promote positive mental health among teenagers.”
Cllr Leahy said there is an urgent need for radical change in the delivery of healthcare. “There are 100 bed closures in Offaly at present and this is not acceptable. We’ve got to stop the emigration of newly qualified medical staff. We are training and exporting 1,600 trainee nurses each year and the recruitment embargo has got to be lifted.”
On job creation he expressed the desire to establish a fund to assist SME’s and eliminate the red tape and regulation that is discouraging people from setting up their own business. He believes employment can be created through retro-fitting of homes as 1.2 million homes need this according to SEI (Sustainable Energy Ireland).
Cllr Leahy remarked that public / local government contracting laws need to be changed to ensure that a large proportion of the work is awarded to local contractors, generating employment and stimulating the local economy. “We need to look after our own. Recently we were fortunate to see state-of-the-art secondary schools built in Banagher, Ferbane and Portlaoise but a major negative with these projects was that we’d local people begging for jobs and there were none for them.”
Education is an investment in the future and a key element in the recovery of our economy, stated Cllr Leahy, who highlighted the need to improve the pupil teacher ratio and reform of the curriculum. “We need more emphasis on smart economy modules to meet the demands of a changing workforce,” quipped the Kilcormac man who explained he was embracing the smart economy ethos by having a ‘Smart Car’ as his election promotion vehicle.
In relation to Third Level Education, Cllr Leahy said ‘we need to make it more accessible to people’ by increasing the number of outreach courses available. “Not everyone can afford to travel to college, pay rent and deal with the other associated costs. So we’ve got to remove the barriers and think outside the box on the issue.”
During the course of a wide ranging power point presentation, he addressed the need for political reform and eradication of the ‘cronyism culture’ that has flooded politics. He spoke on agriculture and his involvement with the Dairy Farmers Crisis Group and outlined a number of measures that are required to maintain and support development in rural communities.
And, unsurprisingly, after ten years experience in the role of Offaly GAA Coaching & Games Promotion Officer he spoke of the pivotal role of sport in modern society.
“We need to ensure funding for sporting organisations is maintained and to make more resources available for Youth Cafe and Foroige Clubs to encourage more awareness of drug and alcohol addiction and mental health issues among the younger generation.”
Cllr Leahy concluded by thanking his parents for their support, his wife Lavinia and children Lee and Clodagh for their patience and for ‘keeping him grounded’.