METRO MAN

Waterford’s Metropolitan Mayor Cllr John Hearne. Photo: Mick Wall.

Waterford’s Metropolitan Mayor Cllr John Hearne. Photo: Mick Wall.

JOHN Hearne became the first Sinn Féin Mayor of Waterford in more than 90 years when he assumed the position of Metropolitan Mayor last June.
For the popular Sinn Féin Councillor, who was the top vote getter in Waterford in the 2014 local elections, the role became his latest addition to a long list of very varied jobs.
John left school at 15 and worked at different jobs around the world from boat skipper to building site gangerman to panel beater.
He admits he “slept in kips across the world” but is proud that his path in life proves that anything is possible.
In 2011, he was arrested as he took part in an attempt to breach the siege of Gaza on board the MV Saoirse.
He was held in an Israeli prison for more than a week before being thrown out of the country.
“I can now tell kids who are in difficult situations that I left school at 15, did labouring jobs all over the world, ended up in jail in Israel, and still became First Citizen of the city,” he said.
“Look at how much further they can go with their education and opportunities.”
He describes his year as Metropolitan Mayor as “one of the best years of my life” and says he was overwhelmed by the “amount of goodwill towards the Mayor” and the “genuineness of people”.
“There were so many emotional days when you meet people and you see the greatness and goodness of people and there has been so much goodwill,” he said.
“People have been so respectful and want things to go very well for you.”
His role was incredibly varied, and involved attending many different community events.
“You think you’re going along to something that just involves a slice of cake and getting a few pictures taken, and then, all of a sudden, it unfolds into an absolutely brilliant event,” he said.
“Or you go to something simple like listening to the High Hopes choir singing and it becomes a hugely emotional occasion.”
He says having the Mayor attend community events means a great deal to the various different community groups in Waterford.
“They take great pride in the role of Mayor in Waterford and have huge respect for the position,” he said.
He hosted a number of Mayoral receptions during his tenure, and said such events can also be very emotional occasions.
One of the most recent receptions was for local athletics legend Fintan Walsh who was honoured for his contributions to the sport in Waterford down through the years.
Many of Fintan’s family members and friends were in attendance to pay tribute to him as well as representatives from local athletics clubs and the local media.
“I didn’t tip anyone off that I was going to ask them to talk as I didn’t want them writing stuff down,” said John.
“I wanted them to speak from the heart. And when each person spoke you could feel the warmth they had. Then Fintan spoke and he was emotional as well.”
He says he particularly liked attending events at which he was presenting certificates, and was especially pleased to see many people with disabilities in Waterford receiving various different awards throughout the year.
“They put in such huge effort to get those certs and it’s great to see the pride they have in their achievements,” he said.
Having the Mayor of the day go to schools and present certificates is a much loved tradition in Waterford and a duty which has been carried out for generations.
Following the amalgamation of Waterford City and County Councils, which resulted in the creation of the Mayor of Waterford City & County position, it was decided that the honour of presenting these certificates to city schools would remain with the Metropolitan Mayor.
“The buzz in all of the schools I visited was brilliant,” said John.
“All of the kids are waiting to meet the Mayor all day and the parents said many had been up all night waiting to go into school. When you arrive, they think you’re some sort of God after coming down from the moon. Some of them were completely overawed by the whole occasion and were mad to get their photo taken.”
Ensuring that local schoolchildren would remember his visit, he brought a much loved pair of shark’s teeth with him to the schools which he visited.
He received two such pairs as a gift after he had finished working on lifeboats in Australia.
“They knew I wouldn’t want a watch or a couple of cans of beer,” he said.
“When I’m going around the town, the kids still say ‘that’s the fella with shark’s teeth’ and ask if I still have them.”
He also had the teeth with him at last week’s special event in the Large Room, City Hall at which the Canadian Ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers was present.
The event marked the unveiling of a new song called “The Coast of Labrador”, written by Brendan Graham and Denis Carey, which celebrates the strong connections between Waterford and the South-East and areas of Eastern Canada, especially Newfoundland and Labrador.
Although he is approaching the end of his tenure as Metropolitan Mayor, he is as busy as ever and one activity which is occupying a huge portion of his time is his preparation for the Waterford Viking Marathon which takes place this Saturday June 24th.
In preparation for this, he was part of Carbally Community Development Group’s ‘Operation Transformation’ programme which took place earlier this year and he lost an impressive two stone.
In the past, he completed eighteen marathons and was involved in several endurance events.
He ran and cycled from Malin to Mizen Head, raising thousands for charity.
But for several years he has attended a pain clinic in University Hospital Waterford for a back injury which prevented him from running and which resulted in him putting on weight.
After being operated on, he decided to go back training and is aiming to complete the Viking Marathon in aid of Dunmore East Lifeboat.
Another big event which he worked towards during the year was his wedding to long-time partner Mary Fitzpatrick which took place on Friday May 26th.
The happy couple, who met 11 years ago, were married at St Paul’s Church, Lisduggan and held their reception at The Tower Hotel.
They were joined by many family and friends and were delighted on the day that the Carrick-on-Suir Republican Flute Bad (which he helped form) paid a surprise visit.
John, who is originally from Dublin, views himself as a proud Waterford man and proudly proclaims that Mary, who is originally from Clara, County Kilkenny, is now a fully-fledged Waterford citizen.
He said they decided to tie the knot this year because of a combination of issues.
“I wanted to do it while my father and aunts were all still here to see it,” he said.
“And a friend of mine died before Christmas. His wife is still very upset, but she said one consolation is that she will always have the memories of the wedding day.”
As an outspoken critic against various forms of criminality, he said the death threats which he has received also loomed large.
One frightening incident a few years ago saw a man travel from Dublin warning of plans to have John shot.
“I didn’t tell anybody as I didn’t want Mary worrying,” he said.
However, the issue of threats against his life was brought into full public view shortly after when his jeep , which was parked outside his home, was targeted in an arson attack.
“I was also threatened outside a house outside Ballybeg. One guy was shouting that he’d burn me out of my house and have me shot,” he explained.
“But I don’t care. I wouldn’t change one step I take because of these people.”
However, he says such events did become a source of worry for Mary.
He has often spoken about how local politicians and local communities need to work together to curb anti-social behaviour and criminality.
As a Councillor, and in his role as Mayor, he has tackled many different issues including the ongoing issue of homelessness in Waterford.
He has voiced his concern about the situation and says the reaction to many cases of homelessness from officialdom hasn’t been good enough.
Another issue which proves that John Hearne is not afraid to stand out from the crowd, or shy away from controversy, was his refusal to wear Mayoral robes during his tenure.
Despite pressure from some within Waterford City & County Council, he says he held firm and stuck to his decision not to wear robes.
“They kept getting onto me about the robes, saying ‘you have to wear robes’,” he explained.
“I think I was the first Mayor that didn’t wear robes – and nobody died.”
He explained his decision to refuse to wear robes as Mayor.
“I live in working class estate and the kids come up and say to me ‘You’re the Mayor’,” he said.
“But when you put on robes you distance yourself from people. As a Republican I don’t think you should distance yourself from people.”
However, he says he has no issue if any of his fellow Councillors on Waterford City & County Council wish to wear robes.
“If they want to wear robes, I fully support them,” he said.
“I wouldn’t tell a person what they should or shouldn’t wear.”
He said he felt particularly pressurised to wear the robes when preparing to visit schools for the presentation of certificates.
“But I said ‘No’ and said that I would make my own decisions,” he explained.
In his capacity as Metropolitan Mayor, he chaired meetings of the Waterford Metropolitan District and says he is proud that he never had a row with any of his fellow Councillors in the Council chamber in this capacity.
“At the first meeting, I said I’d leave them talk as much as they could,” he said.
“For the second meeting I said I’d have to tighten things up a bit as some of them would talk for Ireland! But I was determined to leave everyone have their say.”
Similar to his colleague Adam Wyse (Mayor of Waterford City & County), he is in favour of having a directly elected Mayor with “executive powers”.
While he enjoyed a successful working relationship with Mayor Wyse, he has concerns over how the role of Metropolitan Mayor is perceived by Council management and officials (see News 3).
When elected to the position last June, he became the first Sinn Féin Mayor in Waterford for 96 years.
“The national press, in particularly Independent newspapers, keep saying that we’re not fit for office. I was very determined to show that we are fit for office,” he said.
He says he took inspiration from how the late Martin McGuinness conducted himself and says he was honoured to wear the Mayoral chain at his funeral in Derry earlier this year.
Looking to the future, he has concerns for Waterford and the much sought after investment for the North Quays.
“I’m hugely concerned,” he said.
“It’s a lot of money but it’s the one shot in the arm that Waterford needs. If we don’t get this shot in the arm, we will fall back again.”
He fears that services are continually being “sucking away from Waterford all the time”.
However, one issue which he is more confident of is the future of Sinn Féin in Waterford.
“Sinn Féin is going to get bigger. We already have many people employed full-time for us in Waterford across two offices,” he said.
He enjoyed a recent break in Killarney with Mary following their wedding and he is looking forward to spending time on his boat, ‘The Last Resort’, when he is finished his Mayoral duties.
“I’m painting up the boat, going to get a few lobster pots, take the month of August off, and just float around,” he said.

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