With the incomparable Bridie O’Flaherty as an inspiration growing up, it is no surprise that Mayor Terry O’Flaherty entered politics
Having spent over 13 years in the Galway City Council chamber, newly elected Mayor Terry O’Flaherty has seen huge changes in Galway City during her time in politics but rather than dimming her enthusiasm for the job, the Mervue councillor says she is more eager than ever to represent the city for the coming year.
The ‘Mammy of the Chamber’ was unanimously elected Mayor for the second time last month, following in the footsteps of her mother Bridie who also held the position for two terms.
Both her mother and father Larry have been a source of inspiration to Terry, who says her inauguration as Mayor was an emotional experience due to the fact that all of her siblings, bar a sister living in America, were present.
However, while Terry has fond memories of people visiting the family shop in Mervue to seek her mother’s advice and assistance when she was growing up, she says that she never had aspirations to become a politician until her mother decided to retire at the age of 81.
“I never really thought about going into politics growing up, it was just a natural progression from working with my mother.
“When it came to her retiring, quite a number of people approached me and said, ‘Why don’t you continue on’, so I gave it a lot of thought. A lot of people made suggestions that my mother might retire a year or two early so I could be co-opted to the seat but I refused to allow that to happen. I said if I go, then I go on my own and if I make it, I make it and if I don’t then I don’t.”
Luckily, Terry’s deep involvement in the local community paid dividends and she was elected fourth in the seven-seat constituency. It marked the beginning of a successful career in politics, culminating in her topping the poll in Galway City East in 2009 with almost 13 per cent of first preference votes.
She says that the achievement gave her “great encouragement to work even harder” and was made all the more special by the difficulties faced as a female representative.
“For a woman to top the poll is not easy, women have to work at least three times harder to get elected. That’s not being sexist or anything but it is a well-known fact, women find it very difficult to get elected.
“There’s nobody in back rooms having caucus meeting saying, ‘We won’t run women on the ballot sheet’, but generally in the past, parties didn’t promote women. Thankfully that is changing but we still only have 13 per cent. To be honest, if we had women in the banks etc, I don’t think we would have gotten into the mess we got into.”
While many city councillors see serving in the local authority as a stepping stone to a Dáil seat, Terry says that she has never had any aspirations to be a TD as she “loves being a local politician” and gets great satisfaction from seeing local projects come to fruition.
Of her achievements to date, she says that spearheading the rejuvenation of the Walter Macken Apartments was her proudest moment, describing herself as a “community activist and a strong constituency worker”.
However, she is adamant that her current focus is solely on the Volvo Ocean Race Galway Finale, having just returned from a weekend trip to the Lorient stopover. She praises organisers John Killeen and Enda O’Coineen for their “outstanding vision” and adds that she will give it 100 per cent in the hope that “all visitors go back with good thoughts of Galway and will return in the future”.
“Galway is a great city with great people that are resourceful and that have great community spirit. We are known as a cultural city with wonderful festivals, great traditional music and, of course, the Irish language. We have a great mix in this city of ours and it’s something that should always be cherished and developed.”
Clearly looking forward to the year ahead, Terry says she has been “very fortunate over the years” and feels that history is repeating itself, allowing her to follow in the footsteps of her “mentor”.
“I’m very proud of my mother, to be honest about it. She was there in the chamber the last time I was elected Mayor. She was very ill at the time but at least she was there to see it. I’ve been very fortunate over the years, I’ve been blessed by the support that I’ve gotten. Some people say, ‘You don’t get a bit of thanks for what you do’, but you do, I think people are excellent.”