Profile: Looking Behind The Wall

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Councillor Johnnie Wall at work in his home in Ballinorig.

Councillor Johnnie Wall at work in his home in Ballinorig.

Dermot Crean meets the political veteran who has not lost his enthusiasm for Tralee after over 40 years of community service.

JOHNNIE Wall is a busy man.

The Ballinorig man, with over 40 years service to Fianna Fail, is running as an independent in May’s local elections and he still has a lot of ground to cover on the canvass.

Married to Tina, and father to Johnny, Mary B, Kathleen and Mikey, the genial former Kerry Blue is hard at work at his computer when I visit him at his home.

First of all I asked him how he got involved in politics all those years ago.

“I was in a band and we were good friends with Denis Foley of The Brandon at the time. He asked me to help out with canvassing for Fianna Fail. I was also very much involved here (Ballinorig) in the community games and so on as well. Then in 1985, Councillor Maureen Henry, with six weeks to go, decided not to run in the local elections and I was asked to run.

“It was my first time in the town council and I enjoyed it. I got a feeling for how the town was run and I’ve been re-elected for the past 30 years.”

But a new system came in for this election where there is no more town council and there will be nine seats in the Tralee Electoral Area. Johnnie was very disappointed not to be selected to run for the Fianna Fail party.

“They (Fianna Fail) decided to pick two candidates and maybe add one later. I was there 30 years and Ted Fitzgerald was there 40 years, so I thought they’ll surely let the two of us run. But I got a phone call one Sunday night from the party saying they weren’t going to run me, they were going to run Ted. So I got on my computer and emailed party HQ to tender my resignation.”

Is it different running this time without the party machine behind him?

“I feel it when I’m trying to do everything myself, with the posters and all that. The party weren’t that great for (financial) help. The TDs get big budgets for elections, not the councillors. But they do put up the posters. I had a supporters meeting in the Manor West three weeks ago and 60 people showed up to help which was great and they’ll help me if I need it.”

Johnnie is running this time because he feels he still has a lot to offer the town and he is concerned about the future with this new system of local government. He says the monies collected from rates, housing rents and parking charges will now be going into the county council coffers.

“I’m worried about the Wetlands, the Town Park and the museum…we funded all these things in the town council. Will that money be there now or will councillors from south or north Kerry want it for their areas? I’m worried that unless we have enough local people on the council, Tralee will lose out badly. That’s a big fear.”

So what can he offer in this new Kerry order?

“I’m not a man for making speeches. I’m a great believer that if something needs to be done I’ll go away and do it. We needed a summer festival there a few years ago so I started Feile na mBlath in June which has come on a lot. When the St Patrick’s Day parade was dying a death a few years back I  said ‘let’s try change this’ and now its a great community event.

“When the town had a reputation as being dirty and untidy we started the Towards A Better Tralee and the town has won two Gold Medals in the Tidy Towns in the last few years. When I was mayor of Tralee I sent letters to companies in America detailing what the town can offer. The IDA have done nothing for the town.”

Johnnie firmly believes we can’t rely on Government agencies to attract jobs.

“If I was elected, I’d be pushing the Council to set up a group that would travel and try to sell the town abroad. Mark out the companies to target and bring them a package to show them what the town offers. It’s worth it. The IDA will do nothing for us. They go to the Pale first, then the border, midlands and west and then down to Cork. We’re way down the line. It’s tough meeting people at the door whose children have had to emigrate. I can’t promise them jobs but if we can get a group together to go try to entice companies…”

So what are the big issues he’s meeting on the doorstep?

“Most people are giving out about the water charges and the household charge. On the outskirts of the town people are worried about the septic tank issue and they want to be connected up to the main sewer. Housing is another issue. There is no shortage of housing in Tralee, we’ve plenty empty houses.

What we can’t do, in old settled estates, is move in a couple of families where people will be, for instance, playing football in the street late at night, because it disrupts the whole system. There needs to be fresh thinking on it.”

Away from the canvassing how does he relax

“I go for a few drinks on the weekend and sing a few songs at a music session.”

An ardent John Mitchels man, Johnnie is also season ticket holder at Thomond Park and, thanks to his children, a Liverpool supporter. He also helped set up Mitchels Avenue FC in their ground in Hawley Park.

As I leave the Wall home he is on the move again, off to give a neighbour a hand with something, before going back on the road.

One Comment

  1. Noel Fitzgerald says:

    What Johnnie didn’t say was, he is a people’s man, he cares about the people of Tralee, he listens and stands up for what he believes in, never afraid to tackle something new, while others take a back seat. Johnnie Wall came from a poor family in Mitchells Cresent and had to work very hard to get where he is today, he has never been afraid to voice his opinion and even those in the party Fianna Fáil somewhat restricted Johnnie and he had to tow the party line, which he did dutifully, but he always had the support of the people of Tralee. Given the stage Johnnie can create and achieve greater goals for Tralee, I have no doubt about that, but there are those who will try to pour scorne on him, by saying he’s past his sell by date, we should support a younger candidate, poppycock, Johnnie is as good as anyone and I for one admire Johnnie and see Johnnie as a decent man, who given the chance as an independent, will put Tralee people first and put life back into Tralee and most important give it a future. A great man once said the first step is the hardest. And no it was not Johnnie or was it ha ha.