Cllr Frankie Keena welcomes his successor as cathaoirleach.

Being county’s first citizen was 'icing on the cake': Keena

Outgoing cathaoirleach Cllr Frankie Keena told the annual meeting of Westmeath County Council on Monday that after serving as a public representative since 1995 and a member of Westmeath County Council since 2004 it was “a great honour” to have been given the opportunity to chair Westmeath County Council for the past year.

“I am so proud to be living in this progressive county and to have been elected as its first citizen was the icing on the cake,” he said.

Cllr Keena said the first couple of months of him term coincided with a certain level of lockdown restrictions still being in place due to COVID-19. He said when the restrictions were lifted, it was like “turning on a light bulb” and the invitations to a wide variety of functions, events, official openings began flooding in from all over the county.

“I relished the opportunities to attend these activities as it is really the bread and butter of being a councillor to be able to witness firsthand the excellent work carried out by our communities and to meet people. Supporting communities is so close to my heart as a public representative and it is something that I will continue to do.”

Looking back at some of key events of his term, he referenced the raising ceremony to mark the handover of Custume Barracks to the Irish Army a 100 years ago; the opening of a Technological University in Athlone and the spread of the Bike for Hire scheme to both ends of the county.

He also cited the launch of the All Ireland Fleadh in Mullingar, of the Town Centre First Initiative in Moate, the turning of the sod for the new greenway bridge in Athone and the official opening of Athlone’s greenway extension. “These four powerful projects have the potential to boost the economy in Westmeath,” he added.

Cllr Keena said the issue of housing remained central in the county with the demand for both private and social housing is still increasing.

On a positive note, he highlighted that it is anticipated that there will be 193 new local authority homes completed in the county this year, with 124 in Mullingar, 39 in Athlone, 24 for Kinnegad and 6 for Delvin.

“The low point is that we need more and more housing as soon as possible. My heart goes out to the numerous families who regularly contact me looking for housing. The rising cost of inflation is having a major impact on new house builds,” he said, citing the decision of a developer in Athlone to pause a 426 housing unit development due to the rising costs of materials.”

He said he was looking forward to the free time away from the demands of cathaoirleach to follow up on a backlog of queries and most importantly to give more time to his family.