AS Mayor Jim Long reaches the end of his eventful year as Limerick’s first citizen, he says his proudest accomplishment was “achieving for the people.”
Mayor Long will hand over the chain of office tonight at the City Council’s annual general meeting.
He has had a very busy year, in which plans were put in place for Limerick’s councils to be amalgamated, the city manager retired, the first ever civic reception was held away from City Hall, and Munster legend Paul O’Connell was made a Freeman of Limerick.
A self-styled “people’s mayor”, Cllr Long opened his office to the public on a daily basis to allow his constituents to come in and discuss every day issues with him.
A popular choice, Mayor Long was overcome with emotion when he was elected as first citizen unopposed on Monday, June 27, last year.
“It was something I had wanted from a very young age. When the nominations were called for by Cllr [Maria] Byrne, this is when all the signals started to go off together. It was like the final stages of the Titanic. I felt, ‘This is it!” he said.
He said when he realised there were no other nominations for the post, he felt a “complete sense of disbelief”.
At the start of his year in power, Mayor Long promised to prioritise the needs of the youth and the elderly, as well as the city.
Naturally, the southside councillor gave particular attention to his own area: Ballinacurra Weston, which he says has not seen any investment since the church.
“We set out a plan, and it is a huge privilege to say we have delivered for Ballinacurra Weston,” he said.
Other highlights of Mayor Long’s year in office included the conferring of the Freedom of the City on Paul O’Connell.
“It has to be my number one event. We can now market Paul as a Freeman of the City easily and effectively He is an icon in the world, Europe, and the city, and I would expect any Freeman of the City when called upon to deliver. And I think he has,” Mayor Long said, confirming that the Lions captain will be working with City Hall in the near future.
Mayor Long has always advocated the needs of the elderly. The majority of the €40,000 proceeds of the annual Mayor’s Ball, which welcomed Sir Terry Wogan this year, were donated to the Friends of the Elderly.
“The elderly always have their own issues. They are normally personal - security, heating etc. It is a very ironic statement to make, but they are very concerned about their future. Keep in mind they are elderly - they have their lives behind them. But they look at their future more so than young people,” he explained.
Like many first citizens before him, Mayor Long was hard working, pointing out that he was often working from seven o’clock in the morning, and not finished his day of work until after 10 o’clock at night.
To add to this, over the last six months, he has been battling a serious problem with his left eye which has affected him.
As a result, he often passed a lot of duties to Deputy Mayor Kevin Kiely, and other members of the council.
At times over the last number of years, council meetings have been marred by disagreements, and long-term arguments.
But this year, Mayor Long sought to nip that in the bud by organising a meeting of party leaders before each meeting to stop the backbiting.
“I am a Fine Gael member, but I am elected by the council to represent all the city and all the people. When it comes to common good and common issues, I will not see party colours,” he explained.
One of Mayor Long’s more controversial trips was to the province of Nanjing in China.
On two occasions, he ventured east, with Cllr Kiely.
But he feels history will treat him kindly when investment starts to flow in.
He wants “education, trade and avionic” links from the Chinese province of nine million people.
“I have put Ireland second, and Limerick first. All these links are between Limerick and Nanjing, Limerick and Slovenia, Limerick and Spain, and Limerick and Cyprus. We will see people from these places coming here. We will see a permanent educational hub being set. I believe it will start to roll in 2013. We have made huge progress in setting up the training of pilots in Shannon. Our understanding is the Chinese need 9,000 pilots trained in five years. We cannot cope with this - but if we got 1,000 people, it would lead to a big spend.”
As Mayor of Limerick, Cllr Long faced some tough decisions. He admits the office is a “lonely place” at times.
“Mary [my wife] has done Trojan work behind the scenes. We worked as a team. People do not realise when you have something on your mind, that someone will sit down and listen to you, it opens up the opportunities of a way to deal with things. It was hugely important for me to have someone with such sense in my life,” he said, “She is very quiet, family orientated, and has her priorities right. This eases the burden for me,” he concluded.