A fine job
April 30, 2010
There can be many comparisons drawn between a local authority and a GAA county board, as both have a hugely important part to play within the community.
Since last June, Fintan Cooney has been chairman of the Westmeath County Council, a role that he has thoroughly enjoyed and as his 12-month term draws to a close, the Mullingar based veterinary surgeon reflects on the position as well as speaking about the close connections between the local authority and the GAA.
Fintan has had a lifelong interest in politics dating back to when he was a student at UCD in the early sixties. His allegiance has been with the Fine Gael party ever since and he has held numerous positions at constituency, district and branch levels.
The Longford native moved to Mullingar in 1966 when he joined a veterinary practice in the town and just two years later he took over that practice, which he continues to run it to this day.
"I suppose you could say I'm a converted Westmeath man at this stage, having spent so long living here," he joked. Through my work as a vet and with the county council, I've made many life long friends," said Fintan.
In his role of Chairman of the Westmeath County Council, Fintan experiences different challenges on a daily basis and this is something that he thoroughly enjoys.
"First I would like to say what an honour it is to be chairman of the Westmeath County Council and I've enjoyed the last ten months in the role. There are many meetings to attend, but I find it stimulating as there are new challenges almost every day.
"I'm fortunate to have an excellent staff here, who make my job so much easier, without them, it would be virtually impossible to get through everything. They deserve great credit for the hard work that they put in everyday.
"The past year has been extremely difficult given the cutbacks that had to be made, but thankfully there was no forced lay offs in the council, which we are delighted about. The County Council have a difficult task, but as I said there is a great team there, who will strive to do their best for the good of Westmeath."
All local authorities maintain their traditional role as a provider of essential local services, the various Councils have now been given a broader remit, including (a) to support community involvement with Local Authorities in a more participative local democracy and (b) to enhance the role of Elected Members.
The council consists of twenty three members, directly elected by the system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote. The functions of Westmeath County Council are divided into reserved and executive functions. The elected members discharge the reserved functions e.g. adoption of the annual estimates, the borrowing of money, the making of the development plans etc.
Fintan has also held such esteemed positions as President of the Irish Veterinary Union of which he is a founder member, while he has also been involved in the Veterinary Council of Ireland.
The principal function of the Council is to regulate and manage the practice of veterinary medicine and veterinary nursing in the State in the public interest.
The Council is made up of 19 members, nine elected Veterinary Practitioners, one elected Veterinary Nurse and nine appointed members. The appointed members are nominees of the Minister of Agriculture & Food (4), the Minister for Education and Science (1), the National University of Ireland (2), the Director of Consumer Affairs (1) and the Food Safety Authority (1).
"The Veterinary Union was established to deal with a number of issues that vets had with the department of agriculture and to look after the grass roots element of the industry. I was president for two years and I'd like to think that we made real progress over the years."
Fourteen years ago, Fintan set up a new practice where purpose built premises were opened to house the Auburn Veterinary Clinic. These days Enda Finnerty and Declan O'Brien have joined Fintan as partners in the business, which has allowed the county chairman more time to concentrate on his council duties.
"There has been a big change in the demand for our services. Twenty years ago, the majority of our business concentrated on farm animals, but that has changed completely now. Mullingar has grown into a huge urban town and most of our business now focuses on small or domestic animals."
Fintan has a keen interest in gaelic games and follows the fortunes of both Westmeath and his native Longford very closely. Both his partners, Enda and Declan played football, while another member of staff Yvette Cully has been one of Westmeath's top camogie players for many years now.
"The GAA is a massive part of the community and I've a keen interest in the games. Westmeath is a proud county and although they may not be having the best of times at the moment, hopefully they can get back to their best.
"A number of our customers would be linked to the GAA in some capacity. For example Peter Heslin is a customer of ours and his son John is one of the best young footballers in the county.
"As part of my role as county council chairman, I was invited to the launch of the Westmeath GAA Strategic Plan and I was impressed by the ambition that they have."
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