Following in the footsteps of his mother and late grandfather, Cllr Aengus O'Rourke made history in Athlone on Monday of this week when he became the third generation of the same family to be elected to the top job in local politics.
With his proud mother, Mary, looking on from the public gallery, Cllr O'Rourke was elected as Mayor of Athlone at the June District meeting, carrying on a tradition which began in 1943 when his late grandfather, P.J. Lenihan, was elected as Chairman of Athlone Urban District Council (UDC) and held the office for a period of seven years.
“Don't worry I have no intention of serving for seven years” laughed Cllr O'Rourke as he accepted his chain of office from outgoing Mayor, Cllr John Dolan, amid much goodwill and applause from his fellow Councillors, members of his family and Council officials.
The late PJ Lenihan served as Chairman of Athlone UDC from 1943 to 1949, across two electoral terms, and he was followed, in turn, during the 1980's by Aengus' mother, Mary, who served three separate terms as UDC Chairperson before going on to hold three Cabinet positions in the Fianna Fail Governments between 1987 and 2002.
In a wide-ranging and passionate speech Cllr O'Rourke said it was “an honour and a privilege” for him to serve as Mayor after being elected for the first time in 2009. He outlined a long list of priorities for the coming year.
During his term of office, Cllr O'Rourke, who was proposed by Cllr Frankie Keena and seconded by Cllr Tom Farrell, promised to unveil a new streetscape for the town at the end of the Church street enhancement plan which will “change the face of Athlone very much for the better” and make it “the envy of every town in the Midlands.”
Another major priority for Mayor O'Rourke will be installation of a flood defence system in Athlone, and he added that the town was “very fortunate” to have a Minister in Kevin Boxer Moran who has “a huge interest in sorting out the flooding problem once and for all.” In congratulating Minister Moran and his family, the new Mayor said he had been assured by the Minister that he will have machinery “on site” in the Autumn to build the flood defences.
Referring to social housing, the newly-elected Mayor said it is an issue which “has continually defeated the Municipal District.” He was also extremely critical of the “sledgehammer approach” taken by Minister Phil Hogan in his 2014 reform of local government which led to the abolition of Urban District Councils. “Athlone was one of the biggest losers in this process” he said, calling on new Minister for Local Government to reinstate Urban Councils for towns of over 15,000 people.
Cllr O'Rourke's wife, Lisa, and three of his four children, Sarah, James and Scott, flanked his mother, Mary, in the public gallery, and he paid tribute to his family for coping with the “daily intrusions” into family life that are part and parcel of serving in local politics. His oldest son, Luke, missed the election of his father as Mayor as he is in the Gaeltacht.
In handing over the chain of office to Cllr O'Rourke, outgoing Mayor, Cllr John Dolan said he had adopted a simple motto during his term at the helm of the Municipal District. “The chain of office is the people's chain, and whoever wears it is just carrying it on behalf of everyone in the town” he said.