ON Friday 7 June 1991, cllr Willie Aird’s mother passed away. And last Friday, 7 June 2019, the Portlaoise-based Fine Gael man was elected cathaoirleach of Laois County Council.
In an emotional speech after receiving his chain of office, cllr Aird spoke poignantly about the fact that his mother never got the opportunity of seeing him as chairperson of the local authority, which he first achieved in 2004.
He also spoke fondly of the many deceased councillors with whom he served over his 40 years in public life and particularly cllrs Kathleen O’Brien, Jerry Lodge and William (Bill) Delaney.
Proposed and seconded by party colleagues cllrs Mary Sweeney and Thomasina Connell, cllr Aird contested the position with Independent cllr James Kelly, who was proposed by Independent cllr Ben Brennan and seconded by Sinn Féin’s cllr Caroline Dwane Stanley.
In a roll-call vote, cllr Aird was elected by 14-4 with one abstention – cllr Noel Tuohy (Labour), who was not present.
Cllr John Joe Fennelly (FF) is the new leas-cathaoirleach, having defeated cllr Ben Brennan for the position. The new vice-chair was proposed by party colleagues
Catherine Fitzgerald and Seamus McDonald. Cllr Brennan was proposed by cllr James Brennan (Ind) and seconded by cllr Dwane Stanley.
Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors also shared the spoils, taking 70 of the 82 positions on outside bodies, with some of these carrying expenses for those elected.
Accepting his chain of office and looking around the council chamber, cllr Aird noted: “We’re the last two standing,” a reference to cllr Seamus McDonald who, along with cllr Aird, are the longest-serving councillors in Laois.
He said that certain issues will be prioritised during his term in office, such as the provision of more housing, safeguarding the future of Portlaoise hospital, climate change, economic investment into Laois and addressing anti-social activities around the county.
In his maiden speech, cllr Clooney congratulated cllr Aird on his election as cathaoirleach and gave assurances that he would work with him and the council staff over his five-year term.