‘I’m not about sitting on the sidelines’ – Councillor Aisling Dolan’s response when asked why she decided to go from being an Independent councillor to joining the Fine Gael party. “It’s about the ability to affect change” says the Poolboy native who joined Fine Gael in late 2019 and was subsequently placed on the general election ticket for the Roscommon-Galway constituency. After Senator Maura Hopkins decided to withdraw her own name from the election race for family reasons, Aisling Dolan has taken the lead in rallying the Fine Gael troops in the constituency.
Aisling contested the local elections in May 2019 on a campaign of community activism. She wanted to protect and resource Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe and ensure a waste transfer facility was not located in the town of Ballinasloe.
‘People Power’ won out in relation to the waste transfer station with ‘Ballinalsoe Says No’ campaign group garnering more than two thousand letters of objection from people in the area who are against the granting of a permit for the facility by the county council. Cllr. Dolan says it was the power of having a voice, or rather thousands of voices, that showed her how change can happen.
The next step as part of Councillor Dolan’s mandate was to ensure that Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe, which suffers from overcrowding, a lack of adequate facilities and the absence of sufficient staff, was at the top of the agenda with the government. While she could affect some change as an Independent councillor she realised that she needed to get closer to the decision makers to ensure the voices of rural communities are represented.
When Fine Gael approached her in Autumn 2019 about joining the party, Councillor Dolan felt it would be a beneficial fit and would ultimately ensure the East Galway region would have a strong voice, “the people who voted for me, voted for a voice. At council level I joined a pact with other Independent councillors and Fine Gael where I stipulated that I wanted a meeting with Health Minister Simon Harris in relation to Portiuncula Hospital. Fine Gael delivered on that. Some public representatives have worked on investment for Portiuncula in the past, but no-one had led a clinical team up to Dublin to meet the Health Minister. We worked hard in advance, we prepared a pitch and at the meeting, Minister Harris committed funding to build a new 50-bed unit in Ballinasloe. He instructed his principal officer to issue the tender contract for the enabling works which is now done and is being reviewed. Because of that I saw the power of a major party to achieve change. I’m not about sitting on the sidelines.”
Councillor Dolan says she wants to see a T.D elected to Ballinasloe area who would be able to represent the East Galway area at government level but also be able to understand and represent the communities across Roscommon, “I’m not about sitting on the outside saying shouldn’t we be doing this or that?
We’re well able to do it ourselves, it’s about community groups, business groups, clubs, everyone in our towns and villages in East Galway and Roscommon coming together and achieving change. If people want to just have an entertaining T.D looking in from the outside with no power to affect change, then they have a choice to make at the ballot box, but if you want someone who is a worker, an advocate, a negotiator, a fighter for rural areas, with a track record of getting things done then make the decision to give your first preference vote to Fine Gael because you need to be at the table to have a voice.” In her view it’s important that TDs are not just elected in large urban areas and cities and that Fine Gael representatives are elected from rural constituencies to have speaking time at the table.
Her key priorities as a councillor and as a T.D if she is elected are healthcare - in particular developing services at Portiuncula & Roscommon Hospitals, investment in the region with Rural Broadband to ensure equality of access for our schools, clubs & businesses. This will also encourage flexible and remote working becoming more popular with companies in Ballinasloe, Roscommon, Monksland and elsewhere - allowing employees to work from home in towns and villages and remove the daily slog of commuting to cities for work. She is a great advocate of environmental issues and a priority is to promote eco-tourism through the Hidden Heartlands initiative and progress the greenway between Ballinasloe and Athlone.
Aisling Dolan is the daughter of Tony and Teresa Dolan from Poolboy in Ballinasloe and remembers her father and grandfather attending many Fine Gael fundraisers, especially for former T.D Paul Connaughton Snr., when she was growing up. Councillor Dolan says, she understands the needs of rural Ireland having spent her youth helping her father on a small farm, “I know what it’s like to try and make a living on a small farm in the west of Ireland. It’s not easy and I want to fight to keep people living in rural areas, to give them the resources they need to survive. Practical solutions like rural broadband, farm incentives, jobs investment, these are what’s needed. Not fancy tag lines by politicians who have consistently let rural communities down and some who brought the country to its knees in the very recent past. It was the people of Ireland who put the shoulder to the wheel and got us back on our feet with good decisions made by Fine Gael. It was the people of East Galway who again put the shoulder to the wheel to ensure that a facility with health and environmental concerns was not located at Poolboy.”
Councillor Dolan says that she believes that those who voted her on to Galway County Council as an Independent politician will support her as a member of Fine Gael, “people who know me, know that the only interests I have are the interests of local communities. I want to do my best by them and the only way to get investment, to get resources, to improve the quality of life for people, is to be at the decision-making table.”