“We’re a great, generous community-orientated town – that’s what makes us a little bit different.”
By Dermot Crean
GRACE O’Donnell is no longer the new kid on the block.
Having been elected for the first time to Tralee Town Council in 2009, the Oakpark woman is now hoping to take the step up County Council level against stiff opposition from the other 13 candidates.
I spoke to the Fine Gael candidate at her home in a quiet area of Oakpark, to find out how the campaign is going.
Born and bred in Riverside, Grace was educated at Presentation Primary and Secondary before going on to do a business and secretarial course at the VEC. She then joined the workforce with Kerry Cleaning Centre Ltd (now Total Cleaning Supplies) back in 1994 and has been there since.
Unlike some of the candidates, the O’Donnell family isn’t steeped in politics, but Grace gained an interest from her time in Presentation Secondary.
“In fifth year I got involved with the Youth Centre or the KDYS as it’s known now. We used to produce a newsletter about what was going on in Tralee and other things, but through this I was selected to represent Ireland at a European Youth Conference in Brussels. That really gave me an interest in politics,” she said.
Grace got involved with Young Fine Gael while at school, through people she knew in organisations and has been a member since. But it’s only before the last election did she decide to throw her hat in the ring.
“I was approached by Jimmy Deenihan and he asked me to run for Tralee Town Council. I thought about it and discussed it with my family and felt that I would do a good job.”
She was elected and has served on the Council since 2009, becoming Mayor in 2011-2012, an honour she will never forget.
But now Grace is back looking to be elected to the new Kerry County Council. Is it harder going back on the doorsteps again and what are people’s concerns?
“I find that last time people were more argumentative, people were more cross, but there is a certain amount of apathy this time around. Water charges though is the issue which keeps coming up. People are suffering; they’re trying to put children through college, through secondary school, which isn’t cheap and they’re worried about the future.”
Grace says she finds it difficult when she hears of families with sick children or children with disabilities, are finding things difficult, especially since she is a co-founder of the Care4Kids charity.
“They’re worried about losing medical cards and they’re suffering so much with their children being ill. To have the financial worry on top of that breaks my heart.”
So what does Grace plan to do if she is elected to the new municipal authority?
“Jobs, obviously, is the top priority and with this new regional aid map, Kerry is on a level playing field to attract large companies. That will be of huge benefit. We need to support our SMEs and businesses and look after their interests as best we can.”
With the Town Council gone, she believes there are challenges ahead.
“Our role as municipal authority members is going to be a lot more important because we’re going to have to shout louder in the chamber for the town’s interests. We have a beautiful town with fabulous facilities and the Tralee Chamber Alliance has been very instrumental in promoting the town.”
Outside of politics, Grace was Secretary of Tralee Rugby Club for 16 years up until last year.
“I started going up to the club to watch the games about 20 years ago and I got involved. There’s fabulous volunteers up there, like in the other clubs around the town. They’re doing brilliant work with young people.”
Speaking of young people, Grace was involved for years with the now defunct SAM group and founded the Junior Rotary Club in Mounthawk five years ago.
Through her involvement with the Care4Kids charity, she has fundraised to help families with sick children with their financial expenses.
“We work in conjunction with the Pediatric Social Officer in Kerry General Hospital and she comes to us when she has a family who are in a bit of bother. They fill out an application form and we try to give them an amount of money then.”
“The first couple of years was a struggle but we were lucky to be nominated as one of Donal Walsh’s charities and we have received a substantial amount of money from them over the last two Christmases. It was a huge day personally when I was able to give our first cheque to a family.”
So why should people vote for Grace O’Donnell?
“I’m a hard worker and I believe communities can make our town a better place to live. It’s important to get out there and do as much as you can.”