Donegal Cathaoirleach Nicholas Crossan said Donegal was an "easy sell"
It was “an eventful year” reflected outgoing Donegal Cathaoirleach Nicholas Crossan at the start of his valedictory Donegal Live interview.
The Inishowen man’s trademark good humour was obvious in his tone and yet poignant description of the bittersweet 12 months nearly past.
The first Buncrana person ever to be elected Donegal Cathaoirleach, Nicholas Crossan said the occasion had been “an absolute privilege.”
Cllr Crossan said: “My election as Donegal Cathaoirleach was a privilege for myself and my family and friends. It was made all the more special by the presence of my wife, Rosemary, daughter, Mary and my five brothers. My sons, Cathal and Sean, missed the election, unfortunately, as they live abroad. I have a now-treasured photograph of the six Crossan brothers standing together in Lifford.
“It was rewarding for all the family and friends after a long, tiring election campaign and canvass, to get elected to Donegal County Council first of all. Then, within a couple of weeks, to be elected Cathaoirleach of the County, that was the icing on the cake. As an Independent, you can’t rely on party support, but I have to say a big thanks to the people of Buncrana and Inishowen because if they hadn’t elected me, there is no way I could have got elected as Donegal Cathaoirleach.
“I have to thank the people who elected me for my sixth term in May 2019. From day one the people have supported me, from 1994 right through to 2019.
“People say, ‘You must be doing something right, Crossan’ but by the same token it is a great privilege to know I have so many friends and supporters out there who will back me,” said Cllr Crossan.
An advocate of an “inclusive” Donegal County Council, Nicholas Crossan was passionate about councillors doing their best for the people who elected them.
He added: “On Day One I said, no matter what areas councillors were elected from, be it Glenties, Ballybofey, Letterkenny or Inishowen, you always do your best for the people you represent.
“I said we had to sell Donegal and I continued to do that at a local, national, and international level, at every opportunity I got.
“I told people from Scotland to London, to Philadelphia, to Boston, to Milwaukee, ‘Donegal is a great place to live. It is a great place to work. It is a great place to educate children.’ The standard of living in Donegal is second to nowhere else I know.
“We are living beside the fourth largest city in the island of Ireland. However, within 20 minutes of your city life, where you have your theatre, cinemas, hospital, third level education, you have three or four golf courses in Donegal. There is no other place I know of where that is true,” said Nicholas Crossan.
Highlighting the silver lining of the terrible Covid-19 cloud, Nicholas Crossan said the crisis had made working from home a future opportunity for Inishowen and Donegal people.
Cllr Crossan said: “In the past 13 weeks, if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it is that we can work very effectively from home.
“There is no need to sit in any office from 8.00am to 5.00pm anymore and spend two hours travelling to and from work. People now can work from home. The broadband facility in the towns and villages of Donegal is better than in most parts of Dublin.
“I have talked to people who came home in March, during Covid-19. They have worked from home and have told me the broadband we have here is far superior to what they are getting in Dublin and the surrounding counties.
“So, the estate agents are actually saying there seems to be an interest in houses here. People are actually looking to be repatriated back to Donegal through their work because they see the fantastic standard of living that we have here, the natural amenities, our beautiful beaches, and stunning natural landscapes. We were lucky with the good weather during lockdown. However, we are blessed in Donegal. We have the longest coastline in the Wild Atlantic Way,” said Cllr Crossan.
Evidently proud of Donegal’s accolades as ‘The coolest place on earth’, ‘Ireland’s hidden gem’, and ‘The media’s favourite place in Ireland’, Nicholas Crossan was determined to “get the word out about Donegal.”
He added: “We have to sell Donegal and every councillor has done that at all of the events we have attended.
“I have been very lucky to be able to live in Buncrana and work in Buncrana all my life. And I keep saying, when I was growing up, Donegal was a poor relative. We were going up to Dublin cap in hand, begging for this and begging for that.
“Now, we are going to Dublin and saying, ‘Look, this is what we have to offer in Donegal. Why don’t you come down, have look at it and sell Donegal.’ This was very much the emphasis of my Chairmanship.
“Throughout my year as Donegal Cathaoirleach, I was determined to sell Donegal because that is where we live and where we have to bring more businesses. I said at the start of my year Donegal was an easy sell and it is still,” said Cllr Crossan.
As Cathaoirleach, Nicholas Crossan thrived on the many functions to which he was invited to represent Donegal County Council.
He recalled: “I attended functions from Donegal Connect, to Donegal Grow, to Donegal Youth Council, to Libraries, to Museums. I even handed over a fire engine in Gweedore. One of the things I enjoyed most was meeting our Diaspora.
“One of my favourite things this year was meeting Donegal Youth Council. I really, really enjoyed engaging with the young people.
“The young people that we have in Donegal are bright, articulate, enthusiastic. I think we have a very, very bright future here. The Youth Council are just such a lovely band of young people from all over the county.
“I hope those young people, going forward, will get into politics because that’s what we need. We need bright new faces, people who are energetic and enthusiastic about things. We need to get them involved in politics, at a local and national level. I would love to go out and support them whatever they are doing in the future,” smiled Cllr Crossan.
Cllr Crossan said it was crucial to grasp Donegal’s cross border potential.
He was convinced of the need to “sell” the whole North West region.
Nicholas Crossan said: “Donegal is too small, so we have to sell the whole North West. We are lucky we have a great working relationship with Derry City and Strabane District Council.
“We can bring people into the North West region. We met with senior department officers in every department in the Dáil last summer and emphasised all the positives the North West Region has to offer, broadband, the workforce, good house prices in comparison to Dublin.
“The standard of living that we have here, restaurants, bars, spectacular scenery, golf courses, these are among Donegal’s good points. Our audience was extremely receptive. The North West of Ireland is a good place to go to.
“The cross border relationship with Derry is very beneficial to Donegal County Council. Unfortunately, ‘Golden Bridges’ in Boston and ‘Irish Fest’ in Milwaukee were both cancelled because of Covid-19. It would have been a good chance to go out there and meet the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Mayor of Boston, business people and our own diaspora and reminding them Donegal is a great destination,” said Cllr Crossan.
His get up and go very much in evidence, Nicholas Crossan said Donegal people should be encouraged to come home and set up businesses in the county.
He added: “Because you can now work now in any part of the world.
“My constant message throughout my whole year as Donegal Cathaoirleach was, ‘Donegal is a great spot in which to live.’
“On a sadder note, at the start of my term we lost our colleague, Councillor Manus Kelly. That was sore. I had only got to know Manus and he was so enthusiastic. He was so popular as was witnessed by the turn out at his funeral and wake. The esteem in which he was held was obvious. Manus would have been a great asset for Donegal County Council. He was young. He was new and he was enthusiastic and that is what is needed. His untimely death was very, very sad.
“And then, two months later I lost my own brother, Theo. You always think your family was going to be there but that was a kind of link broken in the six brothers. It was a sad loss for all our family. Theo was a big gap in our family,” mused Nicholas Crossan.
Paying tribute to the staff of Donegal County Council, Nicholas Crossan acknowledged its continued operation during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “Throughout the past 13 weeks, the emergency services had to continue operating, the fire service, planning, water, all these services still had to go on. The executive in Donegal County Council did very well. There was a power of work going on in the background in the Finance, Roads, Environment and Housing Departments. Although Covid-19 hit us hard, all of these services continued.
“Going forward, I would consider the provision of social housing as essential here in Donegal. Every family should have a roof over its head. It is a huge issue in the county and is going to be with us for a long time. It is not going to be solved overnight. There is a dignity in having a home and saying, ‘This is where I am going to rear my family and get peace and quiet.’
“Mica is another serious problem here in Donegal. Credit where it is due to the Mica Action Group which has campaigned relentlessly on the issue. The recent Government announcement was long, long overdue.
“A person’s home is their castle but with mica, you don’t know if you are going to open your door whether it is going to collapse. Donegal County Council has a procedure in place now. Hopefully, the Mica Redress Scheme will enable people to make their homes safe, secure, and liveable in,” said Cllr Crossan.
With his Inishowen Municipal District colleague, Rena Donaghey poised to become Cathaoirleach today (June 17), Nicholas Crossan said it was “great to have another Inishowen person taking over.”
He added: “There are a few schemes started and Rena will be there to push them along as Cathaoirleach.
“Overall, I had a great time as Mayor this year. It was a privilege to serve as Donegal Cathaoirleach. Admittedly the schedule was severe. I remember one day having five meetings, one of which was in Gweedore. I travelled most of County Donegal and will travel the rest over the summer.
“I am grateful to the people of Gweedore, Dungloe, Falcarragh, Letterkenny, Donegal Town. It is only when you are Cathaoirleach and are invited along you to functions, you see the sheer volume of work that’s happening in Donegal.
“I was also amazed by the Artisan food production in the county, homemade jams, cheeses, vegetables, hams everything. It was incredible. The Taste of Donegal Food Festival 2019 was amazing,” said Cllr Crossan.
Himself recovering from Covid-19, Nicholas Crossan said he felt fortunate.
Cllr Crossan said: “Over the last few weeks people have said to me, ‘You were very unfortunate.’ My answer is, ‘No, I was one of the lucky ones. I survived.’
“One of the good things about Covid-19 is it has brought communities together. It also showed us the hectic pace of life we had. Maybe, in the future, we need to slow down a wee bit.
“Looking forward to a bit of normality, it will be great to get more businesses up and running in Buncrana, Inishowen and Donegal. We need restaurants, cafés, and pubs open. If business is not doing well, Donegal is not going to do well.
“Hopefully, businesses will take advantage of the support package aimed at allowing them to have tables and chairs outside their premises. Hopefully too the weather will stay good and give them a boost. There are still two and a half months of the summer left. We want a bounce for Donegal’s tourist trade if there is an increase in staycations,” said Nicholas Crossan.
With an eye to the future, Cathaoirleach Crossan said he did not want Donegal to be Ireland’s “Hidden Gem.”
He explained: “I want people to come to Donegal and discover Ireland’s gem. I want people to come to the ‘coolest place on earth.’
“We want visitors to come to Donegal. Then they can go home and say, ‘Yeah! You know what, Donegal is a great spot to go to!’” beamed Cathaoirleach Nicholas Crossan with visible delight.
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