The worldwide brief and varied political career of Charlie Flanagan was recognised by his own when he was accorded the highest local honour, a civic reception at County Hall on Monday night.
He is now one of a small and select few to have received the honour of a civic reception and the freedom of the Laois.
The occasion was described as a very special one by Laois CEO John Mulholland. “Hopefully the event will give you and your family some time to reflect on your achievements and some time away from your very busy schedule,” he said.
Underlining the progress that has been made in local government, Mr Mulholland recalled how public lights had to be switched off around Laois, and throughout the country, in an effort to save money in the ‘80s.
However, since then Laois has benefitted from significant EU structural support for several projects. The CEO said the local authority makes every effort possible to leverage investment for the county. “No effort will be spared in this regard,” Mr Mulholland said.
The CEO recalled that Minister Flanagan had “cut his teeth” in local politics.
Minister Flanagan is a very proud Laois man and greatly appreciates the work done by the Tidy Towns in the towns and villages in the county. “I know he greatly appreciates wonderful landscape and heritage,” Mr Mulholland said of Minister Flanagan who includes Emo Court and Glenbarrow as his favourite places.
Addressing the council members and the large gathering at the event, Minister Flanagan said “It is a huge honour you have bestowed on me”.
He said it was a great honour for him and his family, his wife Mary and his daughters Olwyn and Sophie.
Elections are the fundamental pillars of democracy Minister Flanagan said. “I wouldn’t have been elected without the active support and hard work of the people here in this room. Without your help, support and work I wouldn’t be here. This is not my honour, this is your honour,” he said.
“Politics is a really challenging and interesting profession and I can’t think of a greater way of engaging in life than through politics,” Minister Flanagan said.
“It is a profession which can take its toll but I have really enjoyed my time serving Laois,” he said.
“My family has made sacrifices as politics really is a 24-hour agenda,” he said.
While the civic reception is a great honour, Cllr Flanagan said a local had informed him of the perks of the recognition at a funeral earlier that day. “I was told that I have free-parking for life in Portlaoise, and I also have free-parking in Mountmellick!”
In such turbulent times, he said the importance of stable politics has never been greater as has the need to respect the dignity of each and every person. He said he had always followed the golden rule taught to him by his father: “Treat others as you would expect to be treated”.
Minister Flanagan appeared somewhat emotional when he recalled the loyalty shown by the local electorate towards him and his family. “I have met people who have said they have never voted for anybody else in their lifetime only Flanagan – myself and my father, since the early ‘40s. That means a lot to me. I hope I can continue to repay their loyalty, and the vote of confidence they have placed in me on behalf of the people of Laois,” he said.
He thanked the TDs who he had represented Laois alongside him in Dáil Eireann – Liam Hyland, John Moloney, Sean Fleming and Brian Stanley.
He said all his life he has been a committed European, a trait which had been inspired in him by his relative and friend Charlie McDonald who had been vice-president of the European Parliament.
He said Ireland had thrived under the EU from being something of an economic backwater 50 years ago to to now being able to achieve the aspiration of patriot Robert Emmet for Ireland to take its place among the nations of the earth. He noted that Ireland is now in the top 10 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index.
In conclusion he thanked all those who have supported him in his legal practice and those who work in his local office. He joked that he couldn’t do it without them, and his workers remind him of that regularly.