If determination was the yardstick by which politicians were measured then John Kelly would be a certainty to get a seat in Dail Eireann after the General Election. I visited the Independent Councillor at his family home outside Ballaghadereen last week and he is utterly determined to leave no stone unturned in his quest for election. He told me that he sort of fell into politics. ‘I helped Hugh Lynn (ex-Progressive Democrats Councillor) when he ran for the local election in 1999 and I thought at that stage that I might run in the next local election but that thought went away and I thought nothing of it until seven weeks before the last local election when I was out having a pint with a friend of mine who reminded me that I had said at one stage that I might run. I dismissed the notion immediately but later that night when I thought about it more I thought why not give it a try. I ran – and the rest is history. ‘I felt that we have had twenty years of inaction by the mainstream parties in the Ballaghadereen area and I decided that if I was every going to get anything done in the local area I would have to go in and do it myself and that is why I wanted to be elected to the County Council. I am not blowing my own trumpet but I have got a lot done locally since I went in to the Council and I know that I will get even more done for the people of County Roscommon if they elect me (to the Dail). I will not make any false promises.The only promise I will make is to work hard to make things better for the people of the county and I think I can deliver on that’ he said. John does not think that being an Independent is a drawback. ‘The people of Roscommon have shown that they are not afraid to vote Independent. There are six Independents on Roscommon County Council and of course Tom Foxe was elected twice (to the Dail) so I have no worries at all in that regard. ‘I will raise a lot of issues that the mainsteam parties are afraid to raise or issues they simply will not touch. There is no hidden agenda with me. I will listen to what the people want’ he went on. John Kelly told me that he is getting a fantastic response on the doorsteps. ‘I know that everyone is going to say that – but it’s the truth. People have been very enthusiastic and I have a lot of solid commitments for votes that will be followed through come election day. I know that I may not have done too well in a recent poll that was reported in some of the local media but that poll was carried out before I canvassed Strokestown, Roscommon and Elphin. ‘I am very confident that the momentum for my campaign is building nicely. I could do with more help of course but I am very happy with things so far.’ I put it to John that it would be easier for him to fight for his issues from within one of the bigger parties. ‘That’s a load of rubbish’ was the immediate reply. ‘Just look at what the likes of Tony Gregory, Mildred Fox, Tom Foxe, Marian Harkin and Jackie Healy-Rae have achieved over the years.In fact a recent poll in Sligo/Leitrim has shown that if Marian Harkin was running she would attract 34% of the vote which is phenomenal. Everyone is predicting a very close election result and that means that Independents will probably hold the balance of power’ he told me. John Kelly says that the Roscommon/South Leitrim constituency is far from predictable. ‘No-one can tell you with any degree of certainty who will get elected here and I have as good a chance of getting elected as anyone else and I will be working hard to make sure every vote counts’ he went on. Cllr. Kelly reckons that there are serious issues that he will be focussing in on. ‘I will be highlighting health issues, rural isolation, facilities for children family issues and youth facilities. ‘I’m not going to pretend to anyone that I am an expert on everything such as green issues like a lot of the rest of the candidates. I am not going to go into an IFA meeting and tell farmers what to do because I am not an expert and I don’t pretend to be one. With regard to the Green issues the local one are important too. I have always highlighted the problem of illegal dumping. I have advocated that elderly people who cannot afford it would be given free wheelie bins and I fully support the efforts of people to increase the level of recycling.’ I asked Cllr. Kelly about his own job as a Community Welfare Officer and his job as a politician. Was there a conflict of interest? ‘No, not really and you know there are plans afoot for the Department of Social Welfare to take over the Community Welfare Officers.That would mean that we would become Civil Servants rather than Public Servants. There are serious consequences down the road for the public if that happens. The personal service will be gone and people will be talking to phone machines in the future which would be a disgrace. ‘It would also mean that I would have to give up my job because as a sitting councillor I couldn’t work in that job and hold public office but if that happens I would give up the job. I want to remain in politics whatever happens’ he says. Cllr. Kelly says that people are sick of the current Government and that it is time for a change. ‘Look – they are in there for the past ten years and they are stale now. People want a change. There will always be the die-hards who will vote the same way every election but the numbers of those type of people are getting smaller and smaller with every passing year. ‘The Government are arrogant and self-serving and they are afraid that the young people might vote them out. Why are they having the election on a Thursday? Because they are afraid that the young people will vot against them if it was on a Friday or a weekend day. They are running scared if you ask me’ he said. Cllr. Kelly says that the people of Roscommon will not be fooled. ‘They are telling me every day on the doorsteps what’s important. The future of Roscommon Co. Hospital, infrastructure in the county, tax breaks for those prepared to contribute to new infrastructure and youth facilities. Things like playgrounds for our children are so essential. We have a lovely one here in Ballaghadereen but go to places like Strokestown and Elphin where there are no facilities for young children. Something will have to be done to help people to get these essential facilities.It’s not impossible. We did it here in Ballaghadereen and we can do it all over the county’ he added. The Independent councillor is not convinced by Government or HSE pronouncements on the future of Roscommon County Hospital. ‘Fianna Fail say it’s safe and Fine Gael say they will keep it open but that is empty talk. Do they expect the people of Roscommon to believe that they are going to bin the Hanly Report altogether? Or that the Teamwork report is going to be disregarded ? Or that Professor Brendan Drumm will not be allowed to do his job and downgrade the Hospital as he said he would do? ‘It is very suspicious that there are no new plans for Roscommon County Hospital being unveiled until after the election. The fact is that services at Roscommon County Hospital have been on the slide for years and that’s despite the very welcome new A&E and the refurbishments carried out recently. It’s an issue that is at the top of my agenda. An Independent TD kept that hospital open before and it can be done again.’ John Kelly says that he is determined to give the people of Roscommon an independent voice. ‘I am convinced that the main parties have largely abandoned County Roscommon in the past twenty years. I have proven that in the three short years since my election to Roscommon County Council that I am a doer and not a talker and I want to do the same for the people of Roscommon. I believe that there’s place for an Independent TD in Roscommon and I will be looking forward to serving the people in Dail Eireann. ‘There are forgotten towns in Roscommon like Castlerea Elphin and Strokestown and I will ensure they get their fair share when I get to Leinster House.’ John Kelly is convinced that he has what it takes to make it all the way and upset the apple cart in a constituency that has seen more than its fair share of upsets in the past. All he has to do now is convince enough people to vote for him to make it a reality. 1. In less than fifty words, can you tell us three reasons why people should vote for you ahead of any other candidate? 1. Commitment to action: It is universally accepted that my three years as councillor has seen many positive developments in my area. 2. A healthy choice: They will be electing a man with twenty-three years of experience in the health and social welfare sector. 3. Fresh thinking: New perspectives with an ability to bring people together. Remember we cannot solve problems with the thinking that created them. 2. In less than fifty words, can you tell us how this constituency would be better off in the wake of your election to Dail Eireann? By campaigning tirelessly in the corridors of power – in addition to working with the people of this constituency – I would secure the future of Roscommon Hospital. In addition, I would kick-start the process of re-opening the debate on rural Ireland’s decline and fast-tracking basic social infrastructural needs for many of the constituency`s forgotten towns. Action would truly replace empty promises. 3. Which of the other declared candidates in Roscommon/South Leitrim impresses you most? They all impress me because anyone that is willing to put themselves before the people deserves appreciation. It’s a tough job that only a few are willing to do. 4. In less than fifty words, what are the three big issues of Election 2007 in this constituency? 1. Without doubt, Roscommon Hospital is number one – Professor Drumm is so hell-bent on developing centres of excellence that he is forgetting that a community needs a local hospital and that the ‘GOLDEN HOUR’ rule must be honoured, ie. access to services within an hour for everyone in the event of you having a serious health issue. 2. Re-open rural Ireland – improve social and economic infrastructure in many of the constituency’s forgotten towns, ie. Strokestown, Castlerea, Elphin, etc. 3. Fresh thinking and a collective approach to attract jobs to the region. 5. Are politicians unfairly treated in the media and unfairly categorised by the public? I don’t think so. People want results from their representatives which I believe is their right. Frustration and apathy are the result of a decade of empty promises. I believe that when you deliver, people are very appreciative. 6. There are presently no declared female candidates in this constituency. Do you think this is unsatisfactory and what can be done to redress this imbalance? I would more than welcome strong female candidates in this constituency, however I am not in a position to select candidates for the various political parties. 7. How can politicians connect with the Bebo generation? I believe we need to go down the route of Youth Councils which I have advocated. We should follow the example of Donegal Youth Council. Engagement is the way forward – the youth are in the best position to help solve the difficult challenges tomorrow’s leaders face. Also it would help if the Government of today decide to hold the election on a Friday thus allowing students to vote. It would show that they truly want to listen to them. I also believe that it is our collective responsibility as politicians to go into the schools and connect with tomorrow leaders. 8. How do you relax? Following Roscommon football team around the place – though that can be stressful at times too! I love soccer – I have followed Leeds Utd. FC for years – again this is getting stressful! 9. Who is the most impressive politician in Ireland – and why? I have always been inspired by Independents that have delivered, starting with Tom Foxe, Marian Harkin, Tony Gregory, etc. Tom Foxe saved Roscommon Hospital from imminent closure, Marian Harkin highlighted the spending deficit in rural Ireland and Tony Gregory got into the ideal position of holding the balance of power and consequently achieved so much for his constituency. 10. If you had to be stranded on a desert island with one of the other candidates in Roscommon/South Leitrim, which one would you choose and why? All politicians are swimmers but what we need are LIFE SAVERS. Whichever of them can offer this live-saving technique for the people of Roscommon can share any island with me.