Excerpt Text and Photographs: John Corless 

The retirement of Gerry O’Neill as Chief Executive of South West Mayo Development Company (SWMDC) was marked in Balla, with a socially-distanced gathering of staff after the September 2021 meeting of the company’s voluntary board of directors. 

Gerry joined the fledgling company in June 1992, as a LEADER Project Officer in the first pilot LEADER Rural Development Programme. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the company in 2001. 

Speaking at the retirement event, Paul Gibbons, SWMDC Chairperson, said that Gerry O’Neill oversaw major growth in the company in his time as CEO. This period saw a huge increase in the number of programmes administered, and the number of staff employed. 

“He played a key role locally and nationally,” Paul said, “on groups such as Irish Local Development Network (ILDN), LEADER, Social Inclusion & Community Activation Programme (SICAP), the roll out of Rural Social Scheme, the Rural Recreation and Walks Scheme, the Western Regional Drugs and Alcohol Task Force (WRDATF) in conjunction with the HSE; the Refugee Resettlement Programme in conjunction with Mayo County Council, the Greenway Maintenance and the current Leader programme, as well as other county working groups.” 

Paul added that Gerry O’Neill’s advice was much sought-after by local and national organisations, over the years. “Not just in local development companies,” Paul said, “but Mayo County Council, the HSE and funding departments. Other agency personnel highly value his opinion,” he said. 

“I have seen this firsthand by his contributions at ILDN. He puts the welfare of people and staff at the heart of all he does, and he always seeks consensus. As CEO he has been a very strong supporter of board members and the relevant chairpersons.” 

Paul said that it was a testament to Gerry O’Neill that the company has survived 30 years. He said that Gerry, by his nature, will credit board members and staff for this achievement, but really it was his foresight and measured thinking and way of doing things that got the company through some challenging times and he leaves SWMDC in a healthy state. 

“South West Mayo Development Company is highly thought-of , at local and national level – this will be Gerry’s legacy. Paul concluded his address by wishing Gerry, his wife, Mary and the O’Neill family a happy retirement and good health. 

A Leader in LEADER 

Mary O’Malley, the company’s Financial Controller, speaking on behalf of the staff, said it was a pleasure to work with Gerry. 

“Gerry is a leader of his colleagues,” she said. “He empowered individuals within the company to develop their careers, and as people. He is a great friend to all who worked with him. I started alongside him in the early days in Castlebar on the first LEADER Programme. He was instrumental in the creation of the Rural Social Scheme which has benefitted individuals and communities in all parts of the south and west of Mayo and nationally.” 

All the staff wished him well on his retirement, she said. 

Gerry O’Neill thanked the attendance for their support and good wishes. He said he was delighted in the establishment and development of the company and its role as being indispensable in rural and local work in the broad area of social inclusion, in the area. 

“I can travel any road in the area and see LEADER projects that have made a huge difference to their community,” Gerry said. “Over the 30 years I have seen many changes. The company faced many challenges and thanks to the leadership of the board and the hard work of the staff, along with the goodwill and support of the wider community, the company has successfully met these challenges. There will always be challenges and I am confident that the company is in a good position to meet these in the future, whatever and whenever they will be.” Gerry concluded by praising various Board Chairs and members he worked with and thanked them for their support. 

The full article was published in The Mayo News, October 2021. 

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