Máire Ui Mhaoláin is CEO of the islands development company – Comhar na nOileán – and lives on Inis Oírr with husband Tom and son Dara. The couple have two grown up childen – Adam who works in Spiddal and Ruth (pictured) who is currently in Australia.
How long are you involved with this project?
I’m working in development for 30-plus years. I began like many others, in my teens, doing voluntary work as a youth club leader, chairperson, secretary and so on.
What made you want to become a community worker?
Community activism was huge in Connemara in my childhood and lots of us from that era went into this kind of work. There was a huge Gaeltacht civil rights movement going on that led to the formation of the co-ops and much more.
What difference has being involved made to you?
I really believe in participatory democracy and you are involved in helping to make communities viable and sustainable – nurturing the language, culture and community and you’re working towards that. You’re directing resources to places based on community values.
Name 3 people you most admire!
Fr Peter McVerry – I really admire him, he’s so humble. Also New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern – she shows great leadership, is decisive and shows concern for all.
Closer to home, I really admire Marty Walsh whose ancestors came from a very deprived area of Connemara and who emigrated to the USA. He rose to become mayor of Boston and is now working in the US Senate on enterprise and employment.
Your top 2 issues in Ireland today?
Housing has to be number one. Covid-19’s impact is number two.
Finish the sentence – “Nationally, we need more…”
Consultation. Communities should be consulted more by government departments. It must be real consultation. Sending an email isn’t consultation. Also, we could do with more support for the Irish language.
“We need less…”
Bureaucracy. We’re strangled by it. We have these circulars every other day from government departments, sometimes asking for silly things. Currently, I’m trying to move a staff member from one office to another. The old office cost €50 per week and the office they are moving to is €40 per week. We have to justify the change in expenditure even though it’s a reduction.
Bureaucracy is strangling community development and development generally. Often, when we meet people about a project we can’t tell them everything at the beginning. If we did, they’d run away.
I believe in good governance but you don’t have to take it to the limit.
Is Irish recognised as an important part of your work?
We work bilingually. We work through Irish in the office. We get very little credit for that. For instance, we accept applications in Irish but translate them for Pobal, the Department and LCDCs. That can take hours, but we don’t make an issue of it. It’s not said, but we know it will be put on the back-burner if an application is submitted in Irish.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished reading an Icelandic crime series. Like ourselves, Iceland is a small community and I love the descriptions of mountain and landscape.
Do you have a pet?
I’ve dogs and cats. I love my dog Rex – he’s a Jack Russell, nearly 14, coming up to his end of life and a bit crotchety but he’s part of the family.
Can you name one thing we learned from the pandemic?
We all now know the value of the community we live in – from the way communities have been working together and protecting each other how we mind and protect each other.
Read more in our islands series here!