If Tramore Town Council wants to pursue a twinning arrangement with another location they should go for it, having first identified a suitable partner. And they should not allow the cost involved – and fears of a consequential media backlash – to deter them from first travelling abroad to carry out proper checks.
That view was voiced vehemently by Town Manager Brian White when the twinning subject was aired at the Council’s May meeting on Tuesday night.
Before the members was a letter from the Mayor of the city of Belleville in Illinois, Mark W. Eckert, suggesting a “sister city relationship” between the two centres. Writing on behalf of Belleville’s elected officials and residents, he indicated that they would warmly welcome the opportunity to create a partnership “between the United States and the Republic of Ireland”.
He said Belleville was already twinned with Paderborn in Germany and would welcome with open arms the opportunity to partner with Tramore also. Such an arrangement, he said, would open doors and provide opportunities to explore other cultures. And he issued an invitation to visit.
The meeting heard that local resident Jimmy Finnegan had a connection with Belleville and it was at his behest that contact was made.
Some of the members were all for exploring the possibilities, others favoured a European twin, while still more were sceptical on account of the subject having been previously debated and the idea abandoned on grounds of cost and also the lack of somebody to take responsibility for the venture.
Cllr. Lola O’Sullivan said they had been down that road so many times in the past decade and got nowhere. But if they were to proceed she felt it would be nice to twin with someplace in Europe, preferably France on account of the convenience of flight connections. “I would love to twin with someplace in the U.S. but who would drive it”, she queried.
Cllr. Ray Hayden wanted to pursue the issue and suggested that the Mayor and Council officials should take it in charge. But they should first establish what was involved before deciding whether to proceed.
Mayor Joe Conway suggested to Cllr. Hayden, who is Deputy Mayor, that the two of them should make contact with the Belleville Mayor and see if a link-up was feasible.
Cllr. O’Sullivan supported that, but felt they should also consider a French or German town. And Cllr. James McCartan was all for reviving a previous proposal to twin with a town in France.
Cllr. Hayden put forward the idea that Waterford airport be invited to become involved and Cllr. Blaise Hannigan said Tramore Tourism should also have an input. He said the youth of the town could gain significantly from such an arrangement, particularly through student exchanges, which would also mean additional commercial revenue. “It’s crazy that a town like ours is not twinned”, he stated.
It was agreed that the Mayor and Deputy Mayor would investigate all the possibilities and write back, as a matter of courtesy at least, to the Belleville Mayor.
But Mayor Conway’s smiling assurance that they would do so without travelling led Mr. White to make the point that while he supported the concept of twinning, it should only be done on solid foundations. And that would require proper investigation and preparation, which would necessitate representatives going to places to carry out checks and to meet people.
“I would not be shy about Council representatives travelling for that purpose”, he said. “It is farcical that local authorities refrain from travelling abroad because of fear of a media backlash. It is news if we fly out for St. Patrick’s Day or on a twinning mission – it is ridiculous.
“I see no reason why the Mayor and Deputy Mayor or a Council representative should not properly check out potential twinning partners before embarking on such a programme.
“We should decide either for or against twinning and go for it if we want to, without fearing the consequences”.
He also advised the Council to seek out a partner that it wanted, rather than just agree to twin with another town just because they sought it.
Furthermore, on the question of cost, he said twinning with a European partner generally qualified for grant aid.
The matter is to be discussed again at the June meeting, to which the Mayor and Deputy Mayor will report on enquiries made in the interim.