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New Cathaoirleach wants to break stigma of mental health

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CHAIN REACTION Cllr Brendan Mulroy pictured in Westport town centre on Bridge Street after he returned home last Friday as the new Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Westport-based councillor outlines priorities for busy year

Anton McNulty

BREAKING the stigma of mental health difficulties will be the one of the main priorities of councillor Brendan Mulroy as he begins his term as Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council.
The Westport Fianna Fáil councillor was elected as Cathaoirleach after defeating Fine Gael’s Patsy O’Brien by 16 votes to 14 at last Friday’s annual meeting of Mayo County Council. In doing so, it is widely understood that he is the first Westport native to hold the office as first citizen of the county.
“It is surprising that after years of local democracy that I am the first Westport-born Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council. A lot of Westport people have gone through [the council] during the years and that makes the honour even more special. I am proud and honoured, not alone for myself and my family, but also for the people of Westport and the West Mayo area in general,” he told The Mayo News following his election as Cathaoirleach.
An employee with Western Care, Cllr Mulroy was first elected to Westport Town Council in 1999, serving for 15 years, before being elected to Mayo County Council for the first time in 2014.
He was joined in the chamber by his wife Shirley, his children, Rachel and Alan, along with his parents, PJ and Kathleen as well as other family members and supporters such as Fianna Fáil TDs Dara Calleary and Lisa Chambers and former Westport Fianna Fáil councillor Margaret Adams.
In his opening address as Cathaoirleach, Cllr Mulroy said he intended to bring mental health and special needs to the forefront of the thought process in the county. He told The Mayo News that people need to talk about mental health and wants the days of it being stigmatised to be forgotten.
“Under my stewardship, mental health is one thing I will be bringing it to the forefront. The days of the stigma attached to it are long gone and people need to talk about mental health. It is an opportunity for me as the first citizen of Mayo to be able to do it. I will sit down with a team around me and come up in the next couple of weeks with a format and policy and make sure it is brought to the forefront.
“People don’t talk about their mental health and there is an awful lot of loneliness in Ireland too. Not alone in rural Ireland but also in urban Ireland. Just because you are surrounded by houses, doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be lonely. It is the case of being able to talk about it. I hope to be able to break that stigma,” he said.
Cllr Mulroy added that through his work in Western Care he sees how difficult it is for parents of children with special needs. He said they are crying out for help and he wants to use his position to highlight that.

Other priorities
He added that the Newport Sewerage Scheme was one project he wanted to see progressing during his year in office and that the car-parking charges will also have to be discussed over the next few months.
Cllr Mulroy was proposed to the position as Cathaoirleach by his Fianna Fáil colleague Damien Ryan but in an unusual set of events, Fine Gael proposed their own candidate, eventhough they knew they did not have the numbers to get Cllr O’Brien elected.
Cllr O’Brien’s family were also in the chamber for the vote and Cllr Mulroy said he respected him for putting his hat in the ring and commiserated with him and his family. He added that having the vote was ‘a good day for democracy’.
A native of Horkan’s Hill in Westport, Cllr Mulroy was wished well in his year ahead as Cathaoirleach by his fellow councillors with Chief Executive Peter Hynes saying that they served well together on Westport Town Council.
“This is not the first time I have served with this Cathaoirleach in the role of Cathaoirleach. In the glory days of town councils we served together in Westport and I have very fond memories of that year and all I can say is that we were both much younger then and we won’t make the same mistakes in this one. If we have half as much fun in this 12 months, it will be a great year,” he said.
A number of councillors spoke of more accountability being needed in Mayo County Council and that the council should look at a new way of doing its business. Addressing those concerns, Mr Hynes said he looked forward to a ‘new era’ in Mayo County Council while adding there had to be ‘mutual respect in this chamber for those who are elected and those who work here’.
Veteran councillor Al McDonnell of Fianna Fáil was elected leas-Cathaoirleach after defeating Fine Gael’s Donna Sheridan by 16 votes to 14.