L-R: Marcella Corcoran Kennedy TD; Cllr John Clendennen; newly selected candidate Marian Pilkington; and MEP Sean Kelly
Fine Gael completed its local election ticket for the Birr Electoral Area at a selection convention on Thursday last at Dooly's Hotel.
There were two names before the large attendance, sitting councillor, John Clendennen and Marian Pilkington from Birr Town, both of whom were confirmed as candidates for the upcoming elections in May.
Cllr Clendennen was proposed by Ken Enright and seconded by Naomi Coonan, and during his speech outlined some of the work and investment that had been brought to the local area and highlighted initiatives such as Town & Village Renewal and Outdoor Recreation that have brought millions of euro in investment.
Clendennen had a strong message for the naysayers and for the politicians that paint rural Ireland as dead and gone, saying "they are doing a serious injustice to the work of so many working within communities, striving to progress and develop their areas further."
He also highlighted the work of the Local Community Development Committee and the role it plays in approving LEADER grants.
"I have seen first hand how enterprises and community and volunteer groups the length and breadth of the county are being supported in their efforts working for their local areas and for the betterment of society and rural Ireland, with of 93 projects in excess of €2.3 million in value have been approved since the programme commenced in 2016, and with a total budget of €6 million allocated to Offaly - there is ample opportunity for development funding within the county whether the project be relative to Economic Development, Social Inclusion or the Rural Environment," Cllr Clendennen explained.
During his speech, the Kinnitty based councillor also outlined some of the challenges that face the local area both on a national and local level, including Brexit and the impact on SMEs and agriculture, and climate change and in particular the loss of jobs at Bord Na Mona.
He outlined his commitment to work with all agencies to ensure Offaly diversifies. Some of his proposals outlined on the night included 'National Park Status for Lough Boora and beyond, establishing Offaly as a centre of Renewable Energy Research & Generation, growing the Tourism potential and gateways to key attractions, and building on the ongoing success of the Tullamore Show and recent success of the Ploughing Championships, by exploring the feasibility of a National Outdoor Events Centre located in the county.
In relation to rural Ireland, Cllr Clendennen continued by saying, "living in rural Ireland should be appealing, with contentment for dwellers, secure in their homes and with access to services."
He called out Minister Shane Ross for special mention regarding recent road legislation introduced, commenting: "I appreciate the legislation was an effort to make our roads safer but was put forward with little or any contingency or regard for rural dwellers, leaving many people frustrated, and increasing the risk of rural isolation."
"The piloting of the Local Link Bus Service is welcome but we must see the introduction of more initiatives to ensure the night time economy remain sustainable and rural dwellers can obtain suitable transport services that meet their individual needs."
One of councillor Clendennen's political regrets of the last five years was the rejection of planning permission by members of Offaly County Council for a multi-million investment in Birr Primary Care Centre and adjoining sporting facilities.
Clendennen informed the gathering that, "Fine Gael stood strong whilst others fell weak and there is no doubt that the decision was a major loss to the town, and remind people of that when we are knocking on doors. I am determined and committed to ensuring this vital facility is delivered to enhance our local medical services, to serve our town and surrounding areas."
Clendennen concluded by thanking all that were present for giving him the opportunity to represent the party and Birr area over the past five years and said he was "looking forward to contesting the local election on May 24."
He will be joined on Fine Gael's Birr ticket by Marian Pilkington while Noel Cribbin and Liam Quinn will contest the ballot for the party in Edenderry, and Neil Feighery, Noelle Foran and Deirdre Fox stand for the government party in Tullamore.