MEET THE CANDIDATES: Housing, amenties and transport among range of issues challenging Ashbourne hopefuls

Story by Sally Harding

Tuesday, 21st May, 2019 8:39pm

MEET THE CANDIDATES: Housing, amenties and transport among range of issues challenging Ashbourne hopefuls

Ashbourne candidates: (Clockwise) Paul Nolan, Joe Bonner, Lisa Mellor, John Stillman, Joseph Tuite, Darren O'Rourke

TWELVE local election candidates are battling it out in the Ashbourne area with just six seats up for grabs when voters take to the polls this Friday.
Ashbourne has undergone a rapid transformation in recent years going from a small village of 400 in 1970 to developing into Meath's second largest town after Navan now boasting a population of nearly 13,000 and doubling in population since 2002 according to figures published in the last census. 

Issues for the electoral in this area include public amenities, green space, traffic, water quality, public transport, soaring rents, anti-social behaviour and the need for an improved Garda presence. 
Sharon Keogan is again running in two electoral areas - Ashbourne, where she narrowly missed out on a seat in 2014 and Laytown Bettystown where she is a sitting councillor. 
Ashbourne auctioneer Conor Tormey is hoping to secure a seat having returned as a member of Meath County Council last year after a 14-year absence. The "new/old" councillor was formally co-opted to the 40-member council to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Cllr Sean Smith who emigrated with his family to the United States.  

Joe Bonner has completed his third term as a councillor – having topped the poll in the last local elections in 2014. Bonner was first elected to Meath County Council in 2004 as an independent councillor.  Being an experienced councillor without party affiliation he says he represents all of the community without the influence of a party whip. 

Fianna Fáil Councillor Claire O'Driscoll's decision to stand down might pave the way for some of the newcomers hoping to make an impression such as Fianna Fail's Lisa Mellor, Social Democrat candidate Paul Nolan or Sinn Fein's Aisling O' Neill who ran as an independent in 2014.  
Joseph Tuite has been put forward by Peadar Toibin's new political movement Aontú. The aircraft engineer living in Skyrne is hoping to tackle road safety issues around the village and traffic management in the area.  Another first timer is Fine Gael's, John Stillman. The quantity surveyor who lives in Gormanston wants to bring issues such as public amenities, illegal dumping and rural isolation to the forefront. 

Hoping to continue her run is Fine Gael's Suzanne Jamal, Vice-Chair of Meath County Council. Suzanne was the first Cathaoirleach of the new Ashbourne District following boundary changes in 2014. 
First-time general election hopeful for Fine Gael and Ashbourne businessman and sitting Cllr Alan Tobin is hoping to tackle poor water quality in the area, a huge issue for residents. 
Sinn Fein's Darren O'Rourke is going in for a second term while Fianna Fail newcomer Sarah-Jane Reilly who works as a psychotherapist aims to highlight issues surrounding mental health for children and adolescents.  

A major issue for the area is the lack of local amenities such as green space and playgrounds. Niamh Gallagher, vice chairperson of Ashbourne Green Space has lived in the town her whole life. The area, home to many young families has just one public playground that has been closed since January for renovations as she explains, 
"Our kids have nowhere to play freely because there is no public green space. We have to load up into the car and hit the road if we want to go for a walk or bring the kids somewhere to play.  Our playground is currently under development as it is getting a massive upgrade which is fantastic but there have been delays and it's looking like the playground will be closed for the summer."

A plan for the Linear Park got the go-ahead in 2003, a move that was welcomed by residents says Niamh,  
"We were delighted at the news of the development of a Linear Park and we were hoping to see the transformation of the river and adjoining land into a beautiful civic amenity which we would all benefit from, sadly the council did not fulfil its promise. 
"Out of a proposed seven zones, for this park, only four are under construction and it was announced a few months ago that once the playground is completed they have no more funding to further develop Linear Park so it looks like it will never be fully developed.

"Planning permission was obtained for a number of housing estates based on access to this proposed park. I was recently looking at old images of Ashbourne with lovely pockets of green space, there was so much potential and it was just developed over without any real thought put into it. It was just houses, houses and more houses. No infrastructure, no schools and no green space. 
"It should be a community and not just somewhere to live."
Broadband, transport and safety concerns along the N2 road surfaces and safety issues regarding parking at schools are amongst the pressing concerns for rural areas. 

(Clockwise) Sarah Jane Reilly, Alan Tobin, Conor Tormey, Sharon Keogan, Suzanne Jamal, Tracy McElhinney



Aisling O'Neill
Sinn Fein

Tell us about yourself
I will contest the local elections for Sinn Fein in May 2019 as the party seeks to secure a second seat in Ashbourne. I am a mother of two, who lives in the Racehill Manor estate and I work as a nurse in Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown.
I have been a longtime activist in Ashbourne and was to the fore of the local anti-water charges campaign. 
I am passionate about building sustainable communities and despair at the lack of forward planning shown by successive FG and FF Governments. As we are in the middle of a housing crisis further houses are needed but they must come with adequate green space and safe play areas for children.
I am an active member of the Tidy Towns and the Broadmeadow River Project.
Apart from local issues, I am also willing to make a stand on the national issues affecting our everyday lives. I am part of the National Homeless and Housing Coalition and fully support Sinn Fein's call for social and affordable housing and rent controls.
I was also a proud member of the  Meath Together for yes campaign to repeal the eighth amendment.
As an elected councillor I will not be afraid to make a stand and be heard. Communities need a strong voice to demand transparency and accountability at all government levels. Together we can build sustainable communities for our children and grandchildren and not leave a legacy of failure and regret.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    
Broken promises in relation to public facilities, no public park or skateboard park, delays in finishing playground.
Water quality and supply issues.
Closing down of recreational facilities due to insurance costs.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    

Secure increased funding from central Government as Meath is the worst-funded council in the country.
Ensuring all future planning considerations take into account the effect on the environment.
Deliver community play space.
Improve public transport.
Establish park and ride facilities.
Achieve a plastic-free Ashbourne.

Joe Bonner

Tell us about yourself   
I was elected to Meath County Council in 2004 - after they (Meath County Council) reneged on a written commitment to provide community facilities in Ashbourne. 
I brokered a settlement approved by the high court which provided €1.5 Million for community facilities in Ashbourne.
I have rejected attempts by major political parties to join them because I consider myself a community representative - not a party representative.
My interests are the Meath East community and its necessities.
In order to represent the community properly, I remain an Independent.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    
My Issues in the Ashbourne Municipal area are the failure of the local authority to provide for :- 
Affordable Housing,
Children's Playgrounds, 
Public Parks,
Recycle Facilities,
Accurate Public Information,

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    
I have had some success in my efforts to represent the community e.g. 
€1.5 Million for community facilities
€1.95 Million for flood relief
€2.2 Million for Curragha/N2 road issues.
Sadly I have had some failures as well.

If I am re-elected I intend to continue my work in representing and informing everyone in the whole community to the best of my ability.

Sarah Jane Reilly
Fianna Fail

Tell us about yourself   
I am a psychotherapist by profession, specialising in helping children and adolescents and my early education was at St Patrick's NS, Stackallen and Mercy Convent, Navan. I am a lover of animals, enjoy nature walks and have a deep interest in the history of our beautiful county. My great-grandfather "Sailor" Reilly, lived at Carrickdexter, Slane and worked on the barges along the Boyne Navigation. This is why I hope all the plans for a greenway along the Boyne come to fruition.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    

The provision of broadband services is a big issue in Meath and despite misgivings about the cost of the Government broadband plan, we must plough on. Traffic issues are high on my list, from the dangers at the Hayestown junction to safety issues at Lismullen and Rathfeigh national schools, and the problems for commuters on routes between Meath and Dublin.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?  

 I hope to make a real impact on the everyday lives of families in Meath. Much, much more must be done on the provision of housing. I'm also acutely aware of the mental anguish and stress endured by many people in our community and hope that I can bring a little light and comfort to them.

Suzanne Jamal
Fine Gael

Tell us about yourself?    
I was first elected in my native Ballybay, Co. Monaghan in the 1990’s following in the footsteps of my father Jim Leonard with a wealth of experience representing my community both in Monaghan and now in the Ashbourne District in Co. Meath since 2009. I was the first Cathaoirleach of the new Ashbourne District following boundary changes in 2014. I am extremely down to earth and approachable and continue her work helping people gain access to timely healthcare. A hardworking efficient and effective local councillor.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    

Broadband, Roads and speed on rural roads

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    
To continue working for rural parts of Meath


Alan Tobin
Fine Gael

Tell us about yourself in 100 words    
My name is Alan Tobin. I'm an Ashbourne man, and I live here with my partner, Michelle. I run a business, employing four people locally. I have served as a county councillor for Ashbourne District for the past five years. As a county councillor, my top priority has been to make sure the Ashbourne District gets its fair share of investment. This has ranged from simple things like path repairs, getting dog foul bins for our town, to working on large scale infrastructural projects like flooding relief works, and the redevelopment of the Milltown Road.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    
Ashbourne is a growing town with many young families. As Ashbourne continues to expand, we need to see more affordable houses for people. Increases in housing need to be matched by more investment in infrastructure and amenities. There is a critical need for more green spaces and playgrounds in Ashbourne. 
Water quality has come up as an issue on the doors, with discolouration being a particular problem. Working with Minister Regina Doherty, we have arranged for Irish Water to conduct 'ice pigging' in Ashbourne, which is a process that will scour the pipes. This will help with the discolouration and improve water quality. If you have never heard of ice pigging before in your life, you can head to to find out more.
Primary school places have been a key issue for many parents in the run-up to this election. After a lot of hard work with a number of stakeholders, we were able to secure a new primary school for Ashbourne. If you would like updates on the progression of this school, I will be providing updates on
My public meeting in Kilbride highlighted a number of issues in the area. Amongst these issues were the need for more paths, so people can walk safely around Kilbride. Speeding is also a concern, with a requirement for traffic calming measures along certain stretches of road.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    
If you give me your number 1 vote on May 24th, you will be voting for an experienced councillor who has a track record of working tirelessly for the Ashbourne District.
The next 5 years will see a new County Development Plan, which will have a wide-ranging impact on how the Ashbourne District develops. If re-elected, it will be my mission to ensure that further development in the area is matched with the investments in infrastructure and amenities that we deserve.
This will ensure that the Ashbourne District continues to be a great place to live in & raise a family.


Joseph Tuite 

Tell us about yourself in 100 words    
Joseph Tuite is an aircraft engineer living in Oberstown, Skryne. He is married to Elizabeth and together they have three children.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    
There are many issues in our area that have been given the blind eye over the last decade. 
Speed in Skryne village. Speed in Rathfeigh village.
Curragha junction requires planning to solve the blind spot problem at the crossroads.  
Park and ride facility serving Kentstown (N2 Kentstown junction)
Garda initiative for Stamullen, highly populated area and built up yet no Garda station. 
More Gardai on the streets, getting to know the community and deter crime.
Across the constitunecy, there is investment needed for amenities. 
Rural broadband is still a problem here, with local business suffering.
Rent control is a major issue across the country and our area is no different.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    
There will be many issues that need addressing that have been swept under the carpet for too long now. 
Community safety will be a major priority, this includes the fight for more Gardaí. Road safety across the area also needs addressing immediately. 
Find solutions to the broadband problem. 
Commence the fight for rent control in Meath. 
Be the voice that gets the message across we need local amenities not just for families but for everyone in our area. Mental health is a serious problem from young to old and having no proper parks/green zones to relax and unwind in is just not good enough. Serious investment will be sought. 
Continue the fight for Navan hospital, we all will suffer if this were to be closed as planned.
Continue the fight for a train line in Navan.


John Stillman 
Fine Gael

Tell us about yourself in 100 words
I am delighted to introduce myself as a new local election candidate for the Ashbourne District. I live in Gormanston, I am one of four - a quadruplet, and grew up in my local area along with my three siblings, Jack, Neil and Isabelle. As a young person, I played GAA in St Patrick's GAA with Stamullen and was educated at Franciscan College Gormanston, and then subsequently completed a BA degree in Trinity College Dublin in Economics and Geography in 2015. Following this, I completed a masters in Quantity Surveying in 2016 Nottingham Trent University in the U.K. I worked in Quantity Surveying for the past two years in Ireland and the UK. I now work temporarily at the Department of Foreign Affairs and still help out with my family business - Stillman Building Contracting Limited. I am active in my local community, I volunteer with Stamullen Tidy Towns, and sit on the committee of Gormanston Community Association. A hard work ethic is in my blood, my family have been involved in local business since the 1940s.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?
Lack of local amenities for young people and children - e.g no playground in Stamullen. 
Litter and illegal dumping 
Speeding in village areas of Stamullen and Gormanston
Rural isolation and crime in more rural parts of my district 
Mental health amongst young people and the rise of social media 

What do you hope to achieve if elected?
To make a meaningful and lasting impact for my local area 
- Lobby for better public transport in rural areas - increase in frequency and routes for the locallink scheme. At the moment it does not cover the Ardcath area. 
- Continue to highlight the longstanding issue of lack of public amenities in Stamullen and Gormanston areas in order to make this a reality - i.e lack of Playground
- Mental health amongst young people - I want to see mental workshops in secondary schools in my area, where young people are told of the services available to them, and how they can access them. e.g Shoutout, Jigsaw Meath.

Conor Tormey
Fianna Fáil

Tell us about yourself
Conor, married to Kathleen, is a local Ashbourne man, whose family have been in business over 50 years. He has his own business and is involved in GAA at county level. He is passionate about his community, understands the problems, issues and challenges that families face and will strongly and actively campaign for better funding, resources and services for Ashbourne district.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?
Roads, footpaths and lighting 
Community and recreational facilities and areas such as parks and playgrounds.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?
To secure better funding for roads, footpaths, lighting & community and recreational facilities and areas such as parks & playgrounds


Darren O'Rourke
Sinn Féin

Tell us about yourself in 100 words    
Darren O’Rourke was elected to Meath County Council in 2014.
He is qualified with a BSc from DIT and masters degrees from TCD and RCSI and works as a Medical Scientist at St. James’s Hospital.
Having previously worked as a health policy advisor in the Dáil, Darren is also currently pursuing a PhD in evidence-based policy and health service reform at Maynooth University.
He is a member of the Regional Health Forum and the Policy Committee on Planning & Economic Development. 
Darren is a member of Tara AC and Ashbourne ABC. He lives in Skryne with his wife and infant son.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?    
Lack of community facilities and the consequences of bad planning:
This is particularly the case in the urban areas of Ashbourne and Stamullen. Huge increase in population, lots and lots of houses built, but a complete lack of community facilities - public parks, playgrounds for kids, skateparks, youth centres for older kids, etc. There are local campaign groups in Ashbourne and Stamullen. Kentstown has a similar need but because they have a 'superdump' at Knockharley and a local community fund from this, they have a more clear path to success. 

Housing is a very important issue, particularly in relation to the cost and availability of rented property and the cost and availability of properties to buy. Such is the demand and availability of 'cash-renters', HAP and other housing supports are essentially useless in the area. The Council haven't built a single social house in the area in the last 5 years (a state-owned site in Ashbourne - owned by the Dept. of Education - was identified for housing in April 2017 and 2 years later there's still no builders on site).

Transport Infrastructure and Cost:
- The N2 between Kilmoon Cross and the Rath Roundabout - a bottleneck every day!
- The price of a train ticket at Gormanston (compared to Balbriggan for example). The price of a bus ticket in Ashbourne (compared to areas a similar distance from Dublin e.g. Maynooth/Celbridge)
- Poor public transport service in many areas, especially rural areas
- Upgrade and maintenance of rural roads leave a lot to be desired. The same can be said of the Council's ability to grit roads in bad weather.

Rural Decline:
Large swathes of the electoral area are rural. We've had post office closures in Bellewstown, Clonalvy and Tara. The closure in Clonalvy led/contributed to the closure of the local shop and filling station and is a huge loss in particular. The community feels abandoned and justifiably so. 

Garda presence:
An issue across the whole area. Ashbourne station covers the whole area, with part-time outposts at Laytown and Duleek. The gardaí are underresourced and overstretched and this has a particular implication for response times, etc. This comes up a lot in areas like Stamullen - lots of young people and a bit of anti-social behaviour, no deterrent from the Gardaí.  

Lack of a proper plan for the Hill of Tara: A heritage site that receives no support from the Department or from the Council. Years of promises but nothing to show for it. 

Economic Development:
Very little local employment. Net outward flow of people for work on a daily basis (particularly to nearby Dublin) is huge. Areas like Drogheda and Dunboyne have seen significant economic development. Ashbourne is left behind. This is recognised by Meath County Council. 

What do you hope to achieve if elected?  

I hope to continue to represent the people of the Ashbourne Area and to fight for and help secure additional resources for Co. Meath and for the Ashbourne Area. I hope to continue to work with local residents to help make the Ashbourne Area a better place to live and work. 
I hope to continue to work with local residents to help build healthy, thriving and sustainable communities.


Lisa Mellor 
Fianna Fail Party

Tell us about yourself in 100 words:
Lisa has been living in Stamullen for over twenty years and has been involved in the local community in Stamullen for 15 years.
Lisa was on the Parents Association of St Patrick's NS Stamullen for ten years, is currently campaigning alongside the Stamullen Needs A Playground Group in trying to secure a playground facility for Stamullen and has been a driving force on the local Community Alert Committee for the past 10 years. 
Lisa is grounded in community and voluntary activism in Stamullen and has gained much experience and knowledge of the local community through her involvement in community organisations.
What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?
Lack of a playground.
Speeding and traffic calming and the need for speed bumps.
Road and path repairs.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    
Succeed in getting a playground in Stamullen. Better roads and installation of speed bumps in all estates in Stamullen and traffic calming for road safety.


Sharon Keogan

Tell us about yourself

I am a full-time councillor in the district of Bettystown/ Laytown since 2014. I am the only councillor to provide a full time 24/7 community support office in Duleek.  I have been involved in the establishment of many important initiatives - Duleek and Donore District Text Alert & CCTV, Duleek & Stamullen District News.
I founded the Duleek Youth Revival Programme supporting teenagers and the Feel Good Project supporting FREE mental health services for our district.
I am passionate about the work I do. If re-elected I’ll work hard to ensure the initiatives I started will be maintained and developed.

What are the main issues affecting the area you represent?
The main issues affecting the local community are; 
• Crime and the need for crime prevention in particular lack of Garda resource in many small towns
• Supporting people with mental health issues and providing a support network within the community for people in need.
• Supporting the youth of the community and giving them a purpose
• Providing funding for local facilities in our villages and towns
• Social housing is a big concern for many in this district - an area that urgently needs government intervention.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?
My main priorities if I am elected are: 
• Provide accessible mental health supports for the people of Duleek and
surrounding area
• Make available council-built housing for rent or lease
• Construction of a playground in Donore/Stamullen/Donacarney
• Introduce further traffic calming measures in built-up areas
• Expand the Community Text Alert services in YOUR area to further reduce crime


Paul Nolan
Social Democrats

Tell us about yourself    
I have lived in Ashbourne for 18 years with my wife Sandra and son Conor. Since moving to Ashbourne I have been active in the local community; Involved in the Right2Water campaign and currently manage local schoolboy teams. 

What are the main issues?
A shortage of housing, a lack of community facilities to go with existing developments, a need for extended recycling services and public transport and public parks.

What do you hope to achieve if elected?    
Meath has for too long been poorly represented. We have the lowest level of funding in the country, lowest staffing rates, and lowest government grants despite having the Minister of Housing, Planning and Local Government from this county. Meath needs to finally start being treated fairly and I want this to change.