THE OUTGOING mayor of Limerick Michael Collins says he’s “no regrets” despite his year in office taking place under the shadow of Covid-19.
As he prepares to hand over the chain of office later today, the Newcastle West councillor has reflected on a “very strange” year which began with his election in the socially distanced surrounds of the Limerick Racecourse 12 months ago, and ends in similar circumstances at the Limerick Institute of Technology this week.
“When I became mayor, I thought by the end of the summer, we would be free of Covid. I was very much wrong,” he acknowledged.
Despite this, Mayor Collins has enjoyed the role, and he has been at helm as Limerick went through one of its toughest periods, putting out encouraging messages as case numbers surged during Christmas and into the New Year.
But he has praised the people of Limerick for finding “strength and determination” to get the numbers down.
“I as mayor and first citizen did take leadership, and hopefully showed decent leadership in calling for the people to support what we were trying to do. In fairness, the people of Limerick were very resilient and they did show leadership too. They came on board and we got the numbers down to where they should be,” he added.
But it has been as a result of the global pandemic, the Fianna Fail man has been unable to enjoy the full experience of being Limerick’s first citizen.
Despite this, there have still being many highlights.
And during his final days in office, as restrictions eased, he’s more than making up for lost time.
Indeed, right up to his final day, the Killeedy man travelled to the length and breadth of the county to visit every single one of its almost 70 GAA clubs to show his appreciation for the role they’ve played during lockdown.
He said: “It has been a huge challenge to do this, but very rewarding to me.
Meeting the club officers, committees. It’s great to see the kids back playing games again. Huge work has gone on around the county into club development, pitch development and community walkways.”
On the subject of the GAA, during one of the country’s respites from lockdown, Limerick’s hurlers won their second All-Ireland title in three years, giving the county a December Christmas present.
The previous time the Treaty won hurling’s holy grail, during that heady summer of 2018, some 82,500 people were lucky enough to be in Croke Park, and the then mayor, Cllr James Collins was able to give the team a heroes return to Colbert Station.
There was no such privilege for his namesake, with only a small number of coaching staff and players allowed at GAA headquarters this time – and no homecoming.
Cllr Collins said: “I was disappointed as mayor I wasn’t physically there, but because of public guidelines we weren’t allowed go. But it was very special to spend it at home with my family. We had a bit of a sing-song after the cup was raised. I’d be involved in music, so it was nice to be able to do that.”
An auctioneer by trade, the mayor has pointed to some of the economic advances Limerick has made in the last year – singling out work on Project Opera commencing.
But they say life is local, and one of Mayor Collins’s most important appointments of the year took place close to home in Limerick’s county town.
Only last month, he turned the sod on the Newcastle West Regional Athletics Hub, a huge project which has taken seven years to come to fruition.
“I was to the forefront of that project with the chairman Jim Galvin and a local working committee who have been very patient and hard-working. That work has now started. It will be of huge benefit to athletics not just in Co Limerick, but parts of North Cork and North Kerry too,” he said.
He’s also delighted that the Limerick Greenway opened on his watch as mayor.
Back in March, negative – and unfounded – stereotypes of Limerick were once again brought to the fore, when the respected international business magazine Forbes published an article critical of the Treaty City on its web site.
But thanks to a concerted effort from the council and the local public, the offending article was removed within just one hour of its publication on a Friday night.
“I was horrified to read it. It was very damning and damaging to Limerick. It wasn’t a true reflection of the new Limerick and the Limerick we have now. We set about a crusade to take on Forbes, and they eventually agreed what they printed was not fair. They didn’t come out with an outright apology, but I think we got a huge result when they said they would travel to Limerick when Covid-19 allows, and they’d set up a foundation which will attract Limerick entrepreneurs,” said the mayor.
Attention is set to switch to the contest to become Limerick’s first Directly Elected Mayor.
The minister responsible for that project Peter Burke was in the city last week to discuss the matter with local councillors.
While he has indicated he would like to see Limerick people go to the polls next year, the outgoing mayor believes this could be too tight a timeframe.
“It [the election] might even go out to 2024. We have to see where Covid-19 leads. We’re not finished with this, and we need to be in a safe environment for it to happen,” said the mayor, who is a member of the implementation committee for the role.
He also refused to rule out seeking a nomination from Fianna Fail to run for the position.
For the time being, the next Mayor of Limerick – elected from within the local authority – is likely to be councillor Daniel Butler.
What would his advice be to the Fine Gael man?
“I think he will do well. He has quite a busy lifestyle and schedule so if he does get busy, he should delegate various jobs to the deputy mayor.
“There's lots of help, and I’m only a phone call away to support him in any way I can,” he added.
Although not the year he expected, Mayor Collins can see the bigger picture, and how lucky he is in comparison to many.
“It was a difficult year for lots of people all over the country, including here in Limerick. I managed not to contract Covid-19, I didn’t lose any loved one from Covid.
“That is the most important to me. I have to be thankful for this,” he concluded.
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