“Would I run again for the Dáil?” queries Mayor of Waterford Mary Roche as we reflect on her year as First Citizen of Urbs Intacta Manet.
“While I could never say never, I honestly believe I can get a lot more done for people in Waterford city as a Councillor than I would ever achieve as a TD, all the more so were I to end up on opposition benches as an independent deputy where I would essentially be powerless, all the more so in the current Dáil when you consider the size of the Government’s majority.”
She added: “And I say that with the greatest respect for all four of our sitting TDs, I like to state unequivocally, but that’s just how I see it.”
Mayor Roche, widely considered to have carried out her duties with aplomb over the past 12 months, is a political rarity: a straight talker.
Shooting from the hip doesn’t always guarantee votes, but it’s refreshing to deal with a politician on a regular basis who isn’t stage managed or trained to obfuscate when dealing with the media.
“I’m very happy with how the year has gone for me,” she said, reflecting on her term of office which will draw to an official conclusion on June 27th.
“I’ve had unbelievable support from my family and friends: there have been eight to 10 people helping me out in a litany of ways practically every day, without whom I just couldn’t have carried out the job the way I wanted to. They know who they are and I’ll be forever grateful to each of them.
“But what’s also made the year so rewarding for me is the genuine civic push that’s been made when it comes to promoting this city from within over the past year or so.
“No-one else is going to do it for us; we can’t hope for a magic wand to be waved that will solve all of our ills in one fell swoop, but what we can do is let people who don’t know just how wonderful this place we live in actually is.
“The promotion of Waterford has been enhanced beyond all recognition and the public has really bought into it. It’s a city we’re all justly proud of and I think that more and more people are tapping into that spirit.
“You walk around the city now and you can sense that mood of optimism, that things are going to get better.
“Now don’t get me wrong: there’s also a deep sense of realism given the extent of our problems, but I look around the country right now and I don’t see too many local authorities working as hard to improve things as ours is right now, and that too is something to be proud about.”
The atmosphere within City Hall has also changed considerably over the past few years when it comes to inter-Councillor debate. Local mudslinging is now practically negligible when its comes to the Council’s monthly meeting. The Mayor agrees.
“Absolutely. I think we’re very lucky with the Council we’ve got right now, and in Michael Walsh we have a City Manager without equal in the country as far as I’m concerned. He’s constantly thinking outside the box when it comes to making this city a better place and we’re starting to see many of his proposals bearing fruit.
“As for us Councillors, well we don’t really sling verbal brickbats around the chamber any more; we tend to keep some of our more heated discussions for the committee room! But we’ve a great level of respect for each other and that can only be good for local politics and the city as a whole.
“After all, each of us essentially wants the same thing: the ongoing improvement of Waterford for the benefit of residents and visitors alike. And for me, it’s a sensible approach to politics – we don’t want to be seen as transmitters of negative messages; we’ve all had our fill of that.”
Mayor Roche added: “Take the House of Waterford Crystal as one example, and then the entire redevelopment of the Viking Triangle as another – tell me another city anywhere right now where two museums are being built?
“And there’s the new garden alongside the Bishop’s Palace that will further enhance the heart of the city. All of this is being driven by the City Council.
“Looking out the window of the Parlour over the past year, it’s been a bit like an episode of ‘Time Team’ given the discoveries that have been made! What’s going on is pretty extraordinary and it’s work that will benefit the whole city over the next few years.”
For me, Mary Roche has been the finest Mayor this city has had in my 12 years as a reporter, and I write that with the greatest of respect to all who have gone before her.
And come June 27th and beyond, both Mary and her proud family can reflect on a job outstandingly done.