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Straight Talking

Straight Talking (35)

A battle for the heart and soul of rural Ireland




I am not of farming stock, but the ongoing protests at the meat factory gates around the country symbolise far more than a battle for better prices for cattle. It is a battle for the heart and soul of rural Ireland. This is not only a problem for the meat companies, it is a problem for the Government too. They will have to decide what they want for the future of rural areas.

  I understand that the demand for beef is down and that the factories feel that they cannot pay any more, but the farmers cannot be expected to be losing money hand over fist, as is the case at the moment. It is very hard to see a way out of the impasse at the moment, but unless there is a solution found we will be facing an even bigger problem for rural Ireland than any we have at the moment.

  The threat of South American beef flooding into the Irish market in the next five years plus the depressed price for cattle is making it a very worrying time for farmers. The easy solution is to appeal to the EU for further financial supports, but that is not sustainable in the long run. The factories and the big processing firms will have to play ball too, as in the long-term their future is at stake as well. We also have to remember that there are thousands of people working in these factories, many of whom have now been temporarily laid off.

  We have experienced a massive flight from the land in the past decade in particular. Local shops, pubs, garda stations and post offices have been shut down. The motorways into Dublin and Galway are overflowing with cars every day, as rural people flock to the cities for work. Sports clubs are struggling to field teams at underage level as population levels in country areas fall year after year. Soon we will see small rural primary schools closing down – that’s the reality.

  The Government might think that this dispute is nothing to do with them, but the quicker there is a solution the better for everyone in rural Ireland. The authorities will have to decide what do they want in the future. Do they want a vast wasteland where there is little more than forestry in rural areas, or do they want to try to keep people on the land?

  Now we hear that thousands of workers at meat processing plants have been laid off because of the dispute. Those people have families to support too. It’s a situation that simply cannot be allowed to continue.

  Remember, the spectre of a no-deal Brexit is looming large and such an outcome would have catastrophic implications for our food industry, particularly if there is a hard border. I know that farmers have been accused in the past of protesting too much, but while I would never support anyone breaking the law, the situation now for many small farmers is dire. It is clear to me that they are at breaking point.

  I think it’s time for Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney to step in and try and solve this before it gets out of hand and is too late. Everyone deserves a fair price for what they produce. That includes farmers and processors. The people working in the factories deserve to live too.















HSE’s Capital Plan is just a glitzy bandaid!






On Monday of this week An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris launched the HSE Capital Plan and on the face of it, it was all sweetness and light and everything is going ‘full steam ahead’ which is great to see and hear. However, it does not take a genius in investigative journalism to see what the real story is when you drill down a little into the reality of what is happening.

  I am certainly not going to do a hatchet job on our health service in general as there are many positive things happening and the majority of the staff who work in the service are top-class, but there are so many problems that a glitzy announcement in Dublin will not paper over the cracks.

  The reality is that the massive overspend at the Children’s Hospital will definitely impact on other HSE projects despite what Government politicians are saying. On Monday, Simon Harris announced 250 new HSE projects. It would be an interesting exercise to come back in three or five years’ time to see how many of those projects have been completed. The two new A&E Departments in Galway and Limerick are so badly needed. The planned 30 new Primary Care Centres are also badly needed but the big question is who will staff these centres?

  The reality of the Irish health service in 2019 is that there are almost 600,000 people on waiting lists. The INMO have just reported that overcrowding in our hospitals in August was the worst on record for the month. There are over 1,000 nursing vacancies in Ireland at the moment. There are 487 consultant vacancies as of the start of September and there is a chronic shortage of GPs prepared to work in rural areas. If the health service is to keep up with the rising elderly population, thousands of extra hospital beds will be needed over the next ten to fifteen years just to stand still.

  This is not just a Fine Gael problem, however. Successive Health Ministers including Mary Harney and Micheál Martin have tried and failed to fix the problems in our health service which seems to be getting worse as the years go by. The demographics are going to dictate that the service will have to expand as the number of people living longer increases so these problems are not going to go away either. In fact they are set to increase.

  Have I a solution? If I did, I would be a wealthy man, and I realise there are no easy or quick fixes but for the Taoiseach and his Ministers to gloss over the massive problems that exist with glitzy announcements from time to time is not going to provide one more bed for someone who needs it nor will not bring forward badly needed surgery for patients.

  The winter is on the way and it’s all fine and dandy if you don’t have to use the health service especially if you are a public patient. But away from Brexit it is by far the most pressing problem that the Government have to deal with on an ongoing basis.


The Kingdom come but ‘drive for five’ should be done!



Gaelic football plays a huge part in the lives of so many of the people in County Roscommon. There is huge passion for the game in the county and it has remained that way over the decades.

  This Sunday history could be made when Dublin attempt to win five All-Ireland senior titles in a row when they face Kerry. In common with every other county in the country there will be huge interest in the match here.

  It’s a world away from the thousands of people who go out every week on a voluntary basis to help out with teams from U-8s to senior not only in football but in hurling, camogie, and ladies football also. The GAA is a massive cultural movement that is unique to this country. But it’s in the big games that we see our heroes, the great players and where the history books are written.

  I am no different to thousands of Roscommon people in that I was brought to games from the time I was able to walk by my late father. But to be brought to an All-Ireland final as a child was the highlight of the year. In 1962 the family car was adorned with Roscommon flags as we headed east only to return empty handed after being beaten by Kerry.

  By the time 1980 had come my father had been gone for almost 10 years so we made our own way to Croke Park only for Kerry to knock us back on our heels again. There were a couple of years since when Roscommon were close to getting there after that but it hasn’t happened since. But there is absolutely nothing to match having your county involved in a major All-Ireland final. We got a taste in 2006 with that never to be forgotten win for the minors.

  I was there in 1982 to see Offaly deny Kerry the five-in-a-row when Seamus Darby scored that last minute goal. It was the biggest roar that I ever heard in Croke Park. To win one All-Ireland is difficult but to win five on the trot is almost impossible.

  So will we see history being made this Sunday? I have a feeling that we will. Most neutrals are glad that Kerry are there to play Dublin and not Tyrone. There is a chance of a football match breaking out as Kerry will definitely play.

  But in the humble opinion of this writer, Dublin have players who can stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the greatest that have ever played the game; Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey, James McCarthy, Brian Fenton, Con O’Callaghan, Paul Mannion and Ciarán Kilkenny are up there with the likes of Jacko, Pat Spillane, Mikey Sheehy, The Bomber and John Egan and all the other greats.

  I hope that it’s a great game. Dublin play a great brand of football that combines the long and short game and their power and precision will be the key. The only thing that may beat them on Sunday is the weight of history on their shoulders. It’s the only unknown factor.

  I love being around when sporting history is being made. Kerry would dearly love to deny the Dubs the ‘five-in-a-row’ and that would write another famous chapter in their illustrious history if that were to happen. But under the very astute management of Jim Gavin, Dublin can weather the Kerry storm and take the title for the fifth year on the trot…I just hope that when we look back on the game on Monday that we have plenty to talk about.


‘Blast from the past’ in Fermanagh






At the start of this week a bomb was left close to the border in County Fermanagh. Thankfully no one was injured but the intention was to injure and kill police officers. It is a reminder of what could lie ahead if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal on October the 31st and it would appear that Boris Johnston either doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care.

  It is fantastic that a whole generation of young people have grown up living in this country in relative peace. I was looking at the excellent RTÉ programme ‘Reeling in the Years’ last week and it was a grim reminder of what life was like here during the 70s 80s and 90s.

  I know that here in Roscommon we were far enough away from the violence that it did not affect most people but every day we got up during that time there was news of some atrocity or other. Thousands of people’s lives were ruined forever as the men of violence held sway.

  The facts of the matter are that if the UK pulls out of the EU without a deal there will be a return to a hard border and checks will be inevitable. It will give dissident republican and loyalist groups a reason to re-commence the violence and people will lose their lives as a result.

  Let’s leave the economy aside for a minute. Border posts and security will be a like a red rag to a bull and violence would be certain to follow. Arlene Foster and her crowd are prepared to put their own people’s lives in danger to preserve ‘the union’ while Sinn Fein are sitting on the sidelines as the lack of any political leadership is dragging Northern Ireland back into the dark ages.

  A lot of the young people that I speak to would not be able to comprehend why anyone would be bombing and shooting each other but it’s a real possibility unless some real leadership is forthcoming and sense prevails.

  There is an onus on everyone to re-double their efforts to ensure that this situation does not come about. Not only Boris Johnson, the EU and Leo Varadkar, but all political parties and none. The pressure must be put on all elected representatives and major organisations to do whatever they can to ensure that we do not return to the days of the past. There are just about 70 days left to go and after that it will be too late.

  It took most of a decade of behind the scenes talks to set up the peace process that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement. It took that long for people to trust each other. Once the horse has bolted then it’s too late. We simply cannot afford to go back to those days again. We can only hope and pray that someone will make Mr. Johnson and Arlene Foster see sense.

  The blame game has already started. If there is no deal and violence returns it will be blamed on Ireland and the EU. To return to the bomb and the bullet cannot be allowed to happen.


Leaving Cert bridges gap between adolescence and adulthood, but it should never define any person



This week tens of thousands of young men and women will have received their Leaving Cert results. The world that they will be entering into now is much different than it was even ten years ago. Having gone through the experience with four of my own children in recent years, I would have a fair idea of what to expect.

  Third level college is what lies ahead for most students, and while it is probably a requirement now for most jobs, there are far more choices for young people which are not given fair consideration. Qualified carpenters, electricians, plumbers, block-layers, mechanics and plenty more jobs in construction and the building and other trades are now more valuable than they have ever been. The day of people turning their noses up at these careers should be long gone. Indeed, good tradespeople are capable of earning far more than many of those who have spent five or six years in college.

  The general trend now for students in third level is that a huge number do a basic degree and then go on to do a secondary degree such as an honours or some complimentary course that will enhance their chances of getting a job. It’s to the credit of many young people that they are prepared to go to college for so long to improve their chances later in life, but the reality for parents is that it costs a fortune…and many people are struggling with the cost of sending their children to third level institutions. The cost of rent alone is almost out of reach in some cases. How long will it be before some people simply will not be able to afford to send their children to college?

  On the plus side, there are loads of employment options for young people at the present time, and with our own economy showing almost full employment, there are plenty of jobs to go around. But, as we have seen so many times in the past, these things move in cycles and it is hard to predict what’s coming down the tracks. A Brexit with no deal is one major worry in terms of jobs.

  One aspect of life that has certainly changed in recent years is that young people tend not to look as a job as being ‘for life’. A huge percentage of the younger set are happy to work in a job for four or five years, and then seek a change. The fact that there are so many of that generation who simply cannot afford to buy a place to live has also changed lifestyles radically.

  But the fact remains that while the Leaving Cert is an exam that bridges the gap between adolescence and adulthood, it should never define any person. If the results are good then that’s great, but if they are not so good then there are many options for our young people to take. I wish them all the best of luck as they consider their options and look to the future this week. I would love to see a sizeable number of the local students being able to live and work in County Roscommon, but that’s far too much to hope for unfortunately. The vast majority are set for Galway, Dublin, London, New York, Toronto and elsewhere. 



End of term report…on politicians!





Fine Gael

The proverbial curate’s egg. There are times when Leo looks very much the dapper, well-educated modern young leader, and then he opens his mouth and comes out with some unbelievable stuff. It’s not a great trait to have with crucial and sensitive Brexit negotiations on the way. In fact, Simon Coveney looks an altogether safer pair of hands.

  Fine Gael look set to be the biggest party once again after the next election, but they will be hoping to form a far more solid coalition Government. They may have to deal with the Greens in order to get back into power.


Fianna Fáil

It remains to be seen whether or not Fianna Fáil will get a bounce for ‘wearing the green jersey’ over the past three years. In reality, they have been in a pretty impossible position. They can give out all they like about Fine Gael, but they won’t vote against them. They seem to be stuck at about 23% in the polls, which would see them behind Fine Gael. This will be Micheál Martin’s final hurrah. It looks like he will become the first ever FF leader not to be Taoiseach.


Sinn Féin

It’s very interesting to look at what’s happening to Sinn Féin. They were growing spectacularly for three or four years but that growth has stalled and has now gone into reverse. Since Mary Lou McDonald took over they have gone down in the polls, which is surprising. The fact that they are still out of Government in the North, and that they are seen to be very negative on most major issues here, is telling against them. It’s very unlikely that either of the main parties would go into Government with Sinn Féin, which is also a major problem for Mary Lou.


The Green Party

They are back with a bang and they will grow furher too. They could have as many as 10 TDs elected in the next election. They will be the kingmakers in the next Dáil. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing remains to be seen, but certainly the Green agenda is here to stay.



The end could be nigh for the Labour Party, which seems to have lost all direction. They are being squeezed by Sinn Féin and People Before Profit/Solidarity/‘the left’ on one side and by the Greens on the other. I would fear for them in the next election.


People Before Profit/Solidarity

There is always going to be a certain amount of support for the far left and well educated politicians like Paul Murphy, Richard Boyd Barrett and Ruth Coppinger (whethere you like them or not) look safe. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there is a vote out there for them.


Other Independents

The advent of ‘new politics’ saw the likes of Shane Ross, Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran and Sean Canney assume ministerial office. They did well – but a lot of people would welcome any future Government being minus Ross…in particular! Many people in this area feel he is anti-rural.

  Other high profile Independents like Michael Fitzmaurice and Denis Naughten will only be effective as part of a grouping that can challenge any sitting Government on the issues of the day.

  Overall then, it looks like more of the same when the General Election votes are counted in early 2020, with no party making huge gains. The exception and unknown quantity are the Green Party who are certain to hold the balance of power when the next Government is being formed.

  Here in this constituency I can see no change with Michael Fitzmaurice, Eugene Murphy and Denis Naughten holding on to their seats.







Green agenda is great…but let’s not destroy Rural Ireland




Consider this sequence of events over recent weeks and months…

1: The Green Party gets a huge vote in the Euro and local elections.

2: The EPA (a state organisation) brings the ESB (a semi-state body) to court over the warm water discharge into the River Shannon which has been going on for over 40 years and which attracted thousands of tourists to Lanesboro every year. It stops electricity generation in Lanesboro, threatening the security of around 150 jobs.

3: An Bord Pleanala (a semi-state body) refuses to sanction planning permission for the ESB to change the raw material for Shannonbridge Power station to biomass from 2020. Hundreds more jobs are put at risk.

4: Bord na Mona make an operating profit for the year of €41 million, but the redundancy programme and their search for alternative business turns that into a €50 million loss for the year.

  It is very clear that the ‘Green Agenda’ has accelerated the push to close down the use of peat to generate electricity altogether – with the prospect of the loss of hundreds of jobs in the midlands. Despite promises from the Government, the vast majority of the workers concerned are in their 50s and 60s and there is not likely to be alternative employment for them.

  I attended the recent protest meeting in Lanesboro and while there were very passionate speeches from everyone there – including from local politicians – it certainly looks to me that Bord na Mona peat production, and the reign of the power stations in Lanesboro and Shannonbridge, is coming to the end very soon. It will be the end of an era in this area if that proves to be the case.

  Then last week the Climate Change Council recommended that the Irish Dairy Herd should be cut in half by the year 2030. Add to that the Taoiseach and his Ministers, who have promised that there will be sharp increases in carbon taxes in the forthcoming Budget. Anyone who needs a diesel car to go to work in areas where there is no public transport will be severely affected.

  The chances of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit are now very high since Boris Johnson has assumed power in the UK, and all indications are that that it would have a disastrous effect on the Irish economy and on Rural Ireland in particular.

  The situation with electric cars has not been thought out properly either. The infrastructure that is needed for the majority of people to operate electric vehicles is simply not there and it may take many decades before it is. Driving electric cars sounds like a great idea, but did anyone seriously look into the practicalities of such a fundamental change in Irish transport habits?

  The Green agenda is gaining momentum – and it all makes so much sense. There is no doubt that climate change must be tackled. But the big question is, are we doing it fairly here in this country? The onward march of the Greens and their increasing vote means that the main political parties are trying to muscle in on the action. Are the people of Rural Ireland the ones who are going to suffer the most as a result of this race?

  I fully realise that we have to be seen to be acting in response to the possible effects of the changing climate but we must have a coherent and sensible plan, one that will not devastate Rural Ireland. The facts of the matter are that there are chimneys belching out more pollution in three streets in Beijing in a year than there is in this entire country! Until the Chinese and the Americans take climate change seriously we are wasting our time on it here in this small country.



It’s time for a cohesive and properly funded Primary Care plan






Ever since the establishment of the HSE, the health service in this country has become more chaotic with every passing year. A posse of well-meaning ministers from different parties have come in and vowed to change things. They have all failed miserably – and that includes the current incumbent, Simon Harris.

  Now the plan is to return the running of the HSE to six regional areas, an approach which sounds very much like it’s back to the days of the old health boards. I would not criticise this latest plan before it has a chance, but if the powers that be thought that the old system didn’t work, then why are we now going back to what is essentially what we had in the past?

  I have had personal experience of having to deal with the health service in recent times. When you actually get into the system, the staff are caring and professional, top class in every way. But trying to get into the system is the big problem. There seems to be absolutely no joined up thinking and, even more crucially, no accountability. There are layers and layers of bureaucracy in the HSE. When things go wrong you can never find anyone willing to accept responsibility. 

  My experience is that the only truly dependable medical service comes from our overworked GPs. Instead of paying lip service to Primary Care, the Government must formulate a cohesive and properly funded plan for Primary Care throughout the country. The chaos, despair and misery that exists in A&E units throughout the country on a daily basis must be halted. I have seen it first-hand and it is a thoroughly depressing experience. Nobody should have to put up with it.

   The problem with running our health service is that ministers go into the job with clear ideas of what they want to do to straighten things out, but they get bogged down almost immediately. I somehow doubt if there is a single politician in Dáil Éireann who is prepared to go in and make the very difficult decisions that are needed to sort this out once and for all. There would have to be job losses in certain areas of administration, and there would also have to be restructuring of the entire organisation to make it one where the patient is at the centre of everything it does. And patient-centred is not how it is at the moment.

  There are hundreds of vacant consultant posts and there is hardly a word about that at all. These are the people who make the crucial decisions as to what treatment people need. I am convinced that people have died or are dying as a result of not being able to access treatment. If that is the case, we should be ashamed. There are 560,000 people waiting for a hospital appointment and tens of thousands more waiting for essential surgery.

  My experience is that the people on the front-line of our health services – the doctors and nurses and support staff – are fantastic individuals, but they are working under increasing pressure with every passing day, month and year.

  We need an overall plan to get us out of the mess we are in. Bring in the GPs, support Primary Care properly in order to ease the burden on hospitals, appoint the consultants that are needed, and make people in the HSE accountable.

  It’s a massive job for whoever has the courage to take it on. However, I would not be holding my breath because – as we all know – when politics intervenes, a lot of the best-laid plans go out the window.


  We can only live in hope. We have to keep trying until we get it right.













































































































































































































































































































A back seat for Brexit and Love Island…all eyes on the Hyde!





Brexit, Love Island, insurance costs, the Mercosur Beef deal and all the other big news stories of the day will be set aside in Roscommon this Saturday as our senior footballers go into battle against Tyrone in the first round of the Super 8s at Dr. Hyde Park.

  The GAA is a massive part of the lives of the majority of Roscommon people and that’s the way it always has been. I have often wondered why there is so much passion for football in Roscommon. I guess it has to be traced back to the mighty men of the 1940s who not alone won two All-Irelands but who dominated the game in Connacht for almost a decade. From the time I was able to comprehend it all, my late father regaled us with stories of the likes of Brendan Lynch, Jamesie Murray, Donal Keenan, Owensie Hoare and the rest of that great team. It was incredible to witness the affection that those men were held in. They were heroes.

  Their legacy has been carried on over the years, and while we haven’t won a senior All-Ireland since the 1940s, men like Gerry O’Malley, Aidan Brady, Dermot Earley, Tony McManus and many more gave us fantastic days out in Connacht and further afield in more recent times. There are plenty of modern-day heroes too like Fergal O’Donnell, Frankie Dolan, Gerry Lohan, Francie Grehan and Paul Earley who helped to keep the primrose and blue flag flying.

  Now in 2019 our young people have new heroes to follow like Conor Cox, Diarmuid Murtagh, Niall Daly and Enda Smith, to name just a few. For a small county, Roscommon footballers have a huge and passionate following and we will see that again this Saturday in Dr. Hyde Park.

  Not only will there be a big and enthusiastic Roscommon following at the match, I also know of arrangements being made by Rossies all over the world to be in front of a TV on Saturday to cheer on Anthony Cunningham’s men.

  I remember many moons ago travelling to Roscommon matches all over the country with my late father, the primrose and blue flags out the window of the car as we journeyed, always in hope and with huge excitement. On many occasions we returned home beaten and disappointed. But come the next league campaign and the next Connacht Championship game, all that disappointment was forgotten about.

  In Roscommon we have a great county with mighty people. However, we have little industry and a small rural population. The majority of our young people have had to seek employment elsewhere, either within Ireland or further afield. But one thing that has always brought the entire county together has been the GAA, and our senior football team in particular.

  At 5 pm on Saturday evening everything else will stop as the ball is thrown in at Dr. Hyde Park. A win would put Roscommon within touching distance of an All-Ireland semi-final. A win would lift the hearts of Roscommon people not only within the county, but all around the world.

  I read this quote recently: “The GAA is the glue that keeps Rural Ireland together” – and who could argue with that? It certainly applies to this county. Yes, the GAA has many faults –and will continue to make mistakes in the years ahead – but in a world that has changed so much in recent decades the Gaelic Athletic Association has remained as popular as ever. It makes a massive contribution to all our lives. The gives our people a sense of identity of which we are very proud.

  This Saturday people will wear their primrose and blue shirts with pride in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney, Melbourne and further afield too.

  The match is previewed in detail in the centre of this week’s edition. This Saturday will be a huge day for Roscommon people everywhere. The best of luck to all concerned.


Carers’ crisis: But do they care?




The role of the carer in our society has never been as important as it is now. The demographics show that our population is living longer, and as a consequence care of the elderly is becoming a bigger and bigger challenge for our society.

  A lot of carers look after elderly parents and relatives without a word of complaint. They want to do this work and they are saving the State a fortune. But there are people out there who want to stay in their own homes but who have nobody to look after them – and this is where there is a major problem.

  A couple of months ago the shortage of home help hours was highlighted in several parts of the country. While the evidence on the ground was damning, there was a blanket denial by Minister Simon Harris and his Junior Minister Jim Daly that there were any cutbacks, indeed any shortage. Either they are hoping this problem goes away or they are not on top of their brief.

  It goes without saying that it is far better to keep people in their own homes for as long as that can be achieved. The cost of doing so is a fraction of what it costs to keep people in acute hospitals and nursing homes. But that message doesn’t seem to be getting through to the Government or the HSE. I read this week where 146 people are awaiting home care packages in County Roscommon alone. That’s a lot of people to be affected.


  Minister Harris and Minister of State Daly are in total denial with regard to the reduction in home help hours when the HSE figures (and those above) show the true position.

  It’s a vicious circle. We have acute hospital beds being clogged up by elderly patients who are ready to be discharged but who cannot leave because if they return home there is no home care package available to help them survive and live independently.

  I was reading last week about an 81-year-old woman in Sligo who was discharged from hospital recently after a broken leg and life-saving surgery. Her home care package was 15 minutes per day! The most efficient home care worker in the world would hardly have taken off their coat before they would have to leave again. It just makes no sense at all.

  But it’s a symbol of the chaos in our health service at the moment and it would appear that there is no one able to sort it out. Last week we had people bringing in sandwiches to hospitals because support staff were on strike. We have a situation where there are 487 consultant vacancies throughout the country, and people wonder why there are hospital waiting lists.

  Yet, the home care situation is one that can be solved with extra staff and extra funding. Getting it right will actually save hundreds of millions of euro in the long run. Surely Simon Harris and his officials can solve this problem at least. We owe it to our elderly to try to ensure that they can stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Get it sorted now and stop pretending that there isn’t a problem there.

























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