Council Affairs: Jackie’s reign a welcome sight in Limerick

Limerick County Council Offices in Dooradoyle.

IT’S not often that you come away from a council meeting bursting with pride and brimming over with positive emotions.

Mostly after local authority meetings I feel disorientated, slightly disconnected from reality, and in need of a little lie down. Even the very next day, the thought of going through my notes and reliving the experience all over again is enough to have me break out in a cold sweat and come over all irritable as the fear sets in.

But last week’s annual general meeting of the Metropolitan District of Limerick City and County Council was a whole other experience. I felt all gushy inside and as proud as Punch to call myself a Limerick man. Truth be told, and no I haven’t bumped my head, I was actually really impressed by our public representatives for the powerful message they were sending out.

On voting for Fianna Fáil councillor Azad Talukder as the first Muslim ever to be elected as Limerick Cathaoirleach, they made it very clear that Limerick is a diverse and inclusive city, where everyone is welcome – despite the poisonous misinformation being spread by a minority of knuckle-headed keyboard warriors and half-witted ‘citizen journalists’.

And this wasn’t some half-hearted symbolic gesture either. The sincerity was palpable. I was greatly struck by the generosity of spirit, the compassion, and humanity of council members, who came down off their soapboxes and put politics to one side.

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Masks slipped, tensions abated, and for a little while councillors stood together, united against the scourge of racism.

This was a really proud moment for Limerick, as our elected representatives celebrated the rich diversity which makes the Treaty City a fabulous place to live, as they unequivocally said no to division and the ugly culture of fear created by far-right extremists.

Nelson Mandela said it best, when he said: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

There was certainly a lot of love in the Dooradoyle council chamber last week. It was really evident how well-loved and highly regarded Cllr Talukder was by councillors across the political divide. It was a beautiful thing to witness and hard not to be moved by it. For a short time, my faith in humanity was renewed.

Cllr Talukder is affectionately known as ‘Jackie’ by his council colleagues, and after only being elected to Limerick City and Council in 2019 for the first time, he has worked tirelessly to be a voice for hard-working migrant communities as well as everyone else residing in his ward of City West.

A 54-year-old businessman, originally from Bangladesh, Azad, moved to Ireland in 2000 where he worked in hospitality before setting up his own business and working as a taxi driver. The “self-made man” is married to Shahana Akter, and has two daughters, Tashfia (7) and Amirah (16).

Limerick is home for Azad and his family and he works his hardest every day to make it a better place for all of us to live. Not all of us can say that.

A real grafter and a man who wants to make Limerick a better place for all, I, for one, am so proud to see him elected as the new Cathaoirleach of the Metropolitan District. I have no doubt he will do us all very proud.

He considers himself a proud Limerick man, so why wouldn’t he?

As Cllr Talukder wore the chains of office for the first time, and took to the top table with the council executive for his opening address, it was obvious why he is so popular.

A man of great warmth and sincerity, he spoke of Limerick with great love.

“Thank you Limerick,” he declared with heartfelt humility.

Limerick’s Senior Hurling heroes were first and foremost on his mind as he congratulated them on their recent five-in-a-row Munster championship success and predicted the likelihood of another All-Ireland final spot for the boys in Green.

He also spoke of his late friend, mentor and Fianna Fáil colleague Jerry O’Dea with great affection.

“Jerry was a true friend of mine. His name comes from my heart, not only in politics, but he was a good friend of mine. I miss you Jerry,” Cllr Talukder commented with heart worn proudly on his sleeve.

While he spoke, I was struck by the vile racism, transphobia, and misogyny that we are bombarded with from all angles these days. What does any of it matter? Colour, creed, sexuality – as long as you are a decent human being, who cares!

Last week the councillors of the Metropolitan District elected Cllr Azad Talukder as their new leader for the next 12 months. A more decent human being you are unlikely to meet.