MAYOR Gerry McLoughlin is reaching the end of what he has described as “the most amazing” 12 months of his life.
The rugby legend says he has preferred his time wearing the red robe of Limerick City Council to the period wearing the same coloured Munster jersey.
On Monday night next, he will hand over the chain of office at the City Council’s annual general meeting.
From calling for city signage in the Polish language to the continuing merger of City and County Councils, and witnessing the dawn of a major new economic plan for both areas, Mayor McLoughlin has enjoyed a wide and varied year as mayor.
Describing himself as a “stay-at-home mayor”, he tells us that unlike his predecessors, he preferred to host low-key events.
With a nod to the economic climate, he says: “We have had very few lavish parties, just a simple cup of tea and a sandwich, which I felt is important. I felt it was time to cut down on the big functions.”
But that is not to say he has not been an active first citizen: he has met many different groups in the city, and even helped in the setting up of a new community enterprise in the King’s Island area.
At a reception for four city lads who won soccer caps for Ireland at junior level, he welcomed officials from the FAI.
He feels it is this in part, which has helped secure the Quadrangular Junior Soccer tournament which is to take place in the city this September.
But his undoubted highlight of the year took place last Friday, when he officially launched the aforementioned economic plan.
“We have a shared vision now about how we are going to move forward. It establishes the city as the third biggest in the country, which I think is important, especially since we amalgamated [with the county]. It is important the city goes forward,” he said.
Mayor McLoughlin was elected as a result of a pact between Fine Gael and Labour members of City Council.
Of course, he resigned as a Labour councillor during his year in office, blaming the party for not supporting him in certain community projects.
He did not let his derail him, however, and without a hint of irony, he said the job as first citizen has been a “labour of love”.
After his election, he said it quickly became apparent the job was bigger than what he had anticipated.
He said: “I sensed there was an opportunity to have an impact in sharing my vision as to where Limerick should be going. I didn’t realise the influence that the mayor really could have, and the amount of impact he could have. You have just one year to support all the groups who need supporting, and acknowledge the work which is going on.”
Community is very important to Mayor McLoughlin: so important, that he helped set up his own digital training centre in the shape of the Digital Hub.
Working with a community group, the project works as a social enterprise, which it is hoped will create 20 jobs initially.
“It was an opportunity I was hoping would occur. I felt it would be good to go back into a community which was helping itself. When this opportunity occurred though, I grabbed it with two hands. We have huge support in the community: a co-operative with 50 or 60 people. It is a bottom-up approach - people who have contributed €50 of their own money,” he explained.
But it was this move which formed part of his decision to quit the Labour party, and “return to my roots” as an Independent councillor. His experiences have dissuaded him representing any political party in the immediate future.
“I don’t feel any of the political parties have the same vision as myself. In a lot of ways, I would say political parties when they don’t listen to people, are not respecting them. I think this has been a problem: in some ways, you could say they are probably talking down to them. You have to listen to people,” he said.
A critic of the regeneration process, Mayor McLoughlin says the fact so many agencies have been set up has hindered the city - something he has found during his year in office. “We have set up so many different agencies and models over the last 20 years which have not been successful, which is why we are in the position we are in today,” he explained.
Through his year in charge, Mayor McLoughlin has often rejected the trappings associated with the office.
In particular, he has been rarely seen in the mayoral car - a perk of the job - instead preferring to travel around the city on two wheels. “It is an easy city to get around - and you get a better view of the city on a bike than sitting in a car,” he said.
Mayors have, in the past, recognised the importance of their family during their year in office.
But Mayor McLoughlin takes the opposite approach, saying they had opted to remain out of his way!
“I think it is important I had a free run throughout the year. I soon found out it is a job you do on your own,” he said.
Father’s Day last Sunday was the first chance he had to sit down with his family since Christmas.
As he approaches the end of his term, Mayor McLoughlin admits he is feeling run down – and is happy to hand over the first citizenship to somebody else.
Asked what advice would give to his successor, he says simply: “Just enjoy the job.”