Log in
Straight Talking

Straight Talking (28)

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.

























Deal or no deal, Boris will be bad for Ireland!




There has been a welcome break over the past month or six weeks in the blanket coverage of Brexit, but that is set to return when the new leader of the Conservative Party and new British Prime Minister is chosen in the next month.

  It would appear that Boris Johnson will be that person – and if that happens, then we are in for a rough time here in this country. It has nothing to do with any row that he is alleged to have had with his girlfriend, or his private life in general, it’s to do with the fact that he doesn’t care about or (even more worryingly) understand the situation in Ireland.

  Earlier this year I visited a part of England (not far from London) which is a Conservative Party heartland. The majority of people in this particular part of the UK are ‘well to do’. They send their kids to private schools, attend Royal Ascot and the Henley Regatta, etc. They are the polar opposite of people in the north of England who wanted the UK out of the EU because ‘the immigrants were taking all our jobs’ – but the affluent folk I encountered are equally anxious that they get out of the EU as fast as possible. And they couldn’t care less about Ireland.

  You may not believe this, but the majority of the people I spent a few days’ amongst believe that the UK is a major world power. They hate having to take instructions from “the Germans and French…and Brussels”. One man said to me: “How dare those Europeans come in here and tell us what to do, we are the UK”.

  Most people might laugh and dismiss that point of view, but Boris Johnson would not be too far removed from that type of thinking. A lot of people in the UK reckon that they will be far better off outside the EU and they couldn’t care less about what happens in Ireland or what the consequences of Brexit might be.

  The worry about the likely accession of Boris Johnson to the top job in the UK is that he is very much like Donald Trump, in that he is not a conviction politician. To my mind, Boris has no vision for the country at all. He will govern on the hoof, in the style of Trump.

  As in the case of Trump, it would appear that regardless of what accusations are made about Johnson’s private life, he will get away with it. His rival, Jeremy Hunt, is just too bland to be able to defeat him. Unless something very substantial and negative comes out about Johnson, then he is set for No. 10.

  The depressing reality for Ireland is that if the UK leaves the EU without a deal it will be a disaster for this country and our economy. At this stage that scenario is far more likely than unlikely. It is something that we should be worried about.

  I wouldn’t be the biggest fan of Leo Varadkar in the world, but looking at Trump, Boris Johnson, Putin and Macron – to name but a few – we are lucky here that we have a number of calm politicians running this country. However, it won’t make much difference if Prime Minister Boris Johnson pulls the plug on the EU – without a deal.



‘It’s time for Mr Ross to come outside the M50 and talk to rural people’




I note that at the launch of the Climate Change Action Plan on Monday, the great Minister for Transport Shane Ross took time out from his latest photoshoot to tell the nation that he is going to “get them out of their cars” and that there are several other proposals to get people to reduce carbon emissions over the next ten years.

  There is no doubt that serious measures have to be taken to help combat climate change, but as usual rural Ireland is at the very back of the queue when it comes to consideration in these matters.

  I get up at 6 am four mornings a week and travel to Tullamore to work. Can Mr. Ross suggest an alternative to the diesel car that I drive to get there? The Luas extension, the Metro Link and improved bus services are not much good to me here in Roscommon. When Mr. Ross and his friends hike the price of diesel, he will be penalising me – and tens of thousands like me – who simply have no alternative to using the car to get to work. Change to an electric car as an alternative? Have you seen the price of the electric cars on the market at the moment, and the lack of charging facilities around the country? It’s time for Mr. Ross to come outside the M50 and talk to rural people and stop preaching from on high.

  Can Mr. Ross explain where he is going to get the billions of euro they collect every year in VRT and other taxes on the sale of cars and vans? What taxes will the Government be increasing to make up the shortfall?

  Climate Change plans sound fine, but there must be a balance struck between urban dwellers and those of us who live in rural Ireland.

  I also see where the Government are planning to ban diesel cars from the centre of towns and cities. I’m sure that the business communities will have something to say about. All these suggestions sound great and look good on paper, but very few people who make those suggestions actually think about how they might work in practice.

  I notice too that there was very little in Monday’s plan about agriculture, and what the Government intends to do about farmers who rely on diesel vehicles to do their daily work. Too sharp of a nettle to grasp, methinks!

  There is certainly a clamour for action to be taken on climate change. Of course since the recent election – which saw the Green Party make significant gains – the Government (and every other political party) are falling over themselves to be seen to have a ‘Green Agenda’. A lot of this is naked political opportunism fanned by the election results.

  I know that we have to be seen to do our bit here in Ireland, but until the likes of the USA and China take this problem seriously, the efforts we are making here won’t make a blind bit of difference in global terms.

  I am certainly not denying that Climate Change is a major issue for our generation and that something will have to be done – and quickly too – but it must be better thought out than the knee-jerk reaction that we saw on Monday. If the price of a litre of desel rises 10 cent in the Budget as a result of increased carbon taxes, it is the people of rural Ireland that will be hardest hit. That’s the simple reality.

  Let’s see how that affects the ‘Green Agenda’.










Happy birthday, 2FM…but tough challenges ahead





Last Friday was the 40th birthday of 2FM (or RTE Radio 2 as it was known in the early days) and there were many special programmes to celebrate the milestone. In fairness to the national broadcaster, they responded to the young people of the country back in 1979, a generation that wanted a station dedicated to a younger way of thinking and to those who wanted to hear popular music. For the most part, RTE did a great job, especially in those early years.

  Presenters like Marty Whelan, Jim O’Neill, Jimmy Greeley, Gareth O’Callaghan, Dave Fanning (who is still on the station) and of course Larry Gogan all became instantly recognisable, and then later the likes of Gerry Ryan and Ian Dempsey made their mark. Tony Fenton too, of course. For many hundreds of thousands of people who loved pop music (me included) this new station filled a gap in the market that was certainly there at the time.

  However, now that the station is 40 years old, they are in a dilemma. While they certainly have retained a ‘younger’ aspect, many of the younger set who like listening to music are tuning in to stations like IRadio, Spin and other dedicated music channels. 2FM is now trying to suit all tastes – and is falling between several stools. However, it did the job it set out to do at the start and it was a major revolution in radio in this country. Of course things move on and the station’s relevance has waned, particularly in the past decade. 2FM’s  battle to retain its relevance will be a tough one.

  There is an ongoing debate about the service that RTE provides. I have to say that for the most part they do a good job. Their news and current affairs service is excellent. There are many very talented people in RTE with whom I worked over the years; people like Ciaran Mullooly, Fran McNulty, Sinead Hussey, Damien O’Reilly, Declan McBennett, James Healy and Fintan Duffy are all superb at their job.

   However, there are some exceptions. I find it hard to listen to Marian Finucane every Saturday and Sunday, particularly as she is getting paid around €300,000 a year for a broadcasting output of around three and a half hours every week. And invariably with much the same cosy line-up of guests. Ray D’Arcy is another broadcaster who gets paid a fortune. It’s hard to see how such salaries can be justified.

  On a much more positive note, Morning Ireland, Sean O’Rourke’s programme and Mary Wilson’s show in the evening time are top class programmes that have maintained the high standard of news and current affairs journalism that we traditionally associate with RTE. The coverage of the recent local and European elections on radio and TV was, as usual, top class.

   In sport, RTE TV is trying to compete with giants like Sky and BT Sport, which can’t be easy. There is always room for improvement and the likes of The Sunday Game and RTE’s GAA coverage in general needs a major shake-up. However, the coverage on radio remains excellent. It’s great to hear new voices on commentary in recent years. There are many more female voices featuring on sports programmes too, which is a welcome development.

  Given that RTE collects a hefty sum from the licence fee each year, what it produces will always come under intense public scrutiny – and rightly so. There needs to be oversight and reviews carried out constantly – it’s no harm to keep the national broadcaster on its toes.

  Granted, some of their presenters are grossly over-paid, but I think when most people evaluate their overall service to the Irish people, the majority view probably is that RTE has done a very good job in what is a very competitive market. I think that we need to continue to have a state broadcaster into the future.









A dramatic weekend of highs and lows…





It was interesting to experience the local elections from the other side of the radio. I opted to go to Castlebar, instead of going to the count. There will be more elections, there might not be too many Roscommon wins in the senior championship in MacHale Park!

   As usual there were winners and losers, great stories and surprises too. In the Roscommon electoral area Tony Waldron came from almost nowhere to sweep into a seat after a brilliantly run campaign. Fair play to Marty McDermott as well. He did a lot of the canvassing on his own and it is not easy for a non-sitting councillor to get elected. Paschal Fitzmaurice got a massive vote and surely now he is looking east towards Leinster House! Fianna Fáil must be thrilled with their vote in this area, with established councillor Orla Leyden also elected. Kathleen Shanagher’s reputation as a hard-working councillor paid off and Nigel Dineen did very well to retain his seat.

   Commiserations to my old buddy Domnick Connolly who missed out this time around. It was just not to be for him, and he was squeezed with a lot of very high profile candidates running on his doorstep.

  John Cummins blazed a trail in the Boyle area once again. He is a top class councillor and a great community man. Valerie Byrne also did very well. She is a highly efficient public representative who is building her vote all the time. Michael Mulligan bucked the trend of a collapse in the Sinn Fein vote by holding on to his seat comfortably, while Tom Crosby’s return to the Council is a superb achievement. Liam Callaghan and Joe Murphy did well to get in in such a competitive field. It’s incredible to note that Liam Callaghan is only one of two Fine Gael councillors elected in the county.

  Independents Tony Ward and Ivan Connaughton swept up votes all over the place in the Athlone electoral area. John Naughten flew the flag for Fine Gael once again while John Keogh was the only Fianna Fáil councillor elected in that area, which is surprising. The election of Donal Kilduff and Laurence Fallon means that – incredibly – there were four independents elected in Athlone out of the six seats.

   Overall though, Fianna Fáil can be well pleased with their vote in the county. However, Fine Gael had another very poor outing, with no councillor elected in the Roscommon/Castlerea area and only two elected overall. Another surprising aspect to this election was the collapse of the Sinn Fein vote locally and nationally. After a decade of steady growth, something has gone badly wrong there and Mary Lou (McDonald, party leader) will come under some pressure now.

   Nationally, the performance of the Green Party is the story of the election – expect Leo Varadkar and the Government to react to the results with a raft of ‘Green’ policies – including hefty carbon taxes – when the Budget comes around in October.

  However, being a keen political observer for decades, I have my doubts about this so-called ‘Green Wave’. If the Government slaps a carbon tax of 10 or 12 cent a litre on diesel in the Budget, it will be interesting to see the reaction of the public, particularly in rural areas. Yes, we have to do something about climate change and young people are very exercised about the issue – and rightly so too – but there is a political reality here as well.

  Having spent the weekend on the road and away from the count, I had plenty of time to tune into radio coverage and I have to congratulate Shannonside on their superb coverage from early on Saturday morning. It was so easy to find out what was going on in the local area. I was involved in many of those election broadcasts over the years, and they have it off to a fine art now. Well done to all concerned. Hopefully when the next count is on it won’t clash with a major championship match!












Don’t opt for the cop-out – get out and vote on Friday




It’s so easy to be very cynical about politics. I have often slipped into that mode myself in over thirty years of covering it. However, this week I would be urging people to go out and vote on Friday.

  Anyone could give you a thousand reasons why people should not bother to go to the ballot box. Throwing your hands in the air and declaring “sure they are all the same” or saying “I have no interest” is a cop-out. The reason that we have elections is that people have their say every so often – and I am of the belief that people should go out and exercise their franchise. It’s not like it’s a big deal, or hard to do.

  There is not much point in sitting up at the bar counter giving about politicians of all parties and none if you pass up the chance to go out and vote. In fact I would completely dismiss the opinion of anyone who could easily have gone out and voted and who just didn’t bother, yet still feels they have a right to complain.

  I listened to an RTE Radio report on Monday evening that listed the jaw-dropping amounts of money that MEPs earn and the expenses that they are entitled to, and it would make your blood boil. But the system we have is working reasonably well, and whether we like it or not, Europe is where it’s at. With Brexit coming down the line, we may as well have a say in what’s going on.

  On the local scene, people know most of the candidates who are standing in their area. County councillors don’t have much power but they can have some influence on what services are available in their own local area and throughout the county.

  There are many big issues to be considered, such as the farming scene, rural Ireland, climate change, housing, homelessness, education, emigration and crime. If ordinary people do not go out and have their say, standards among those whom we elect will slip even further – and God only knows it’s poor enough as it stands. So go out and vote on Friday, regardless of whom of what you decide to vote for.

  This Saturday there will, as usual, be huge interest in the election count, and particularly at local election level. The fact that the GAA have fixed the Roscommon v Mayo Connacht semi-final match for Castlebar on Saturday evening at 7 pm means that I will be missing my first election count in 30 years.

  Some of the most exciting (and longest) days and nights of my career were spent in places like the stage in the Dr. Hyde Centre, The Mall in Longford and the Travellers Friend Hotel in Castlebar. You can complain about the length of time that it takes to complete these counts, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It adds to the tension and the excitement, and all human life is there.

  There is excitement and cheers, bitter disappointment, recriminations and tears. There are opinions, rows, speculation, tallies, agreements, speeches, surprises, transfers, recounts, endless cups of coffee – and exhaustion at the end of it all.

  To be honest, I will be sad to miss it all, but if Roscommon could ever win in MacHale Park, it will make it all worthwhile! Good luck to all concerned this weekend.






Next week’s elections will be first major verdict on Leo’s administration




On Friday week (24th of May) the people will go to the polls in the European and local elections in what will be the first major test of the Government since they took office. 

  On the 14th of June 2017, Leo Varadkar was elected Taoiseach. It will be very interesting to see what the verdict of the public will be. The European elections will give a reasonable idea of how the public are feeling after two years of this current Government.

  There are mixed signals in the Irish economy. On one hand there is plenty of employment, and wages are growing at a modest rate. However, there are a number of huge problems, not least the chronic housing situation, homelessness, unaffordable rents and the fact that in the larger urban areas, young couples simply cannot afford to get on the property ladder.

  Fine Gael’s traditional strong support among the farming community is also under the spotlight as many farmers are disillusioned at poor prices and dwindling incomes. The massive overruns in spending on major infrastructural projects like the Children’s Hospital and The National Broadband Plan have led to accusations of financial recklessness.

  But despite all those problems, and the fact that Leo Varadkar is prone to shooting his mouth off from time to time – something that gets him into bother – it looks like Fine Gael will probably hold on to their national vote of about 30%.

  Fianna Fáil are in a very difficult position. They can claim that they are ‘acting in the national interest’ by propping up the current Government, and while they have been very critical of some Government policy, the bottom line is that they are keeping them in power. They are caught talking out of the two sides of their mouth all the time.

  They have some strong candidates running in the Euro elections and will be in with a chance of taking the final seat in this Euro constituency, that’s assuming that Mairead McGuinness, ‘Ming’ and Matt Carthy will hold on to their seats. Micheál Martin will probably hold on as leader but it would be very unusual for the main ‘opposition’ party not to have gains in a mid-term election – but that’s what’s likely to happen. Not a great sign for the future if we have a general election within the next 12 months.

  Having said that, it is almost inconceivable that the party would not win a seat in this constituency, with Brendan Smith and Anne Rabbitte in the field. It would be a very poor result indeed if one or other were not to take the seat made vacant by Marian Harkin.

  Sinn Féin have three high profile outgoing candidates in the Euro poll and Matt Carthy, Lynn Boylan and Liadh Ní Riada should all be re-elected. The dramatic rise in support for Sinn Féin has stalled and they seem to have reached a plateau somewhere short of 20% nationally.

  Labour are struggling badly. There was a time when the party would do well in Dublin in particular, but those days are over. They may have an outside chance in the Capital with Alex White, but that’s about it.

  The Independent sector is well-populated. There are a number of interesting candidates this time around. Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan looks like he will retain his seat in this constituency but it will be interesting to see how Clare Daly and Mick Wallace do in Dublin and Ireland South respectively. Peter Casey may have a chance in this area but I have a feeling that Ming has cornered the ‘protest’ vote.

  Despite the fact that Brexit has dominated the news headlines over the past 12 months and the fact that many of our farmers are in receipt of payments from the EU (in terms of grants), I am of the firm opinion that there is very little or no interest in these European elections. The fact that they are being held on the same day as the local elections will ensure a decent turnout, but I shudder to think of how low the turnout would be if they were held on their own.

  However, it won’t lessen the intensity, as this election will be hard-fought. The prize for the winners is massive…a huge salary and generous expenses, which is guaranteed for five years!

  In this constituency I am predicting seats for Mairead McGuinness, Matt Carthy, Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Brendan Smith.



Eugene McGee…the ultimate straight talker and one of the finest men I have ever met







Never was a column called ‘Straight Talking’ so aptly named, given this week’s subject, which is on the late Eugene McGee. Like so many people, I was shocked and saddened to hear of his passing as the news spread on Sunday morning last.

  In the days since the news broke it is amazing how many people have expressed such fond memories of the great man from Colmcille. I am certainly no different. He touched so many people’s lives in a positive way.

  Of course he will be primarily remembered as the man who steered Offaly to probably the most famous All-Ireland senior football final win of all time, in 1982. But he had so many more strings to his bow.

  I first met Eugene in the late 1970s when he was in charge of a famous and very successful UCD team that included our own Tony McManus. Tony often regaled us of fantastic stories of his coaching methods and no-nonsense approach, and how when you first met Eugene he appeared off-hand and gruff but once you got to know him he was anything but that.

  He was a man who was way ahead of his time in terms of his attitude and thinking. When local radio started in 1989, there were many people in the local newspaper industry who viewed this new form of media as a possible threat. However, Eugene was one who embraced the idea and was of the opinion that it would be a big addition to local communities. And of course he was proven right.

  As the Shannonside GAA commentator and reporter in those early days, I sought advice from Eugene many times. He was always so helpful and supportive. He was very quick to point out anything that he disagreed with too!

   But Eugene McGee was far more than a GAA coach and newspaper columnist. As the Editor of the Longford Leader (and for a period, the Cavan Leader) he was a tireless advocate for people in rural Ireland. He used his high profile to highlight many issues in terms of unemployment, emigration, health services, transport and infrastructure. He spared no-one in power if he thought they were selling rural Ireland short.

  He had a brilliant mind, whether it was to do with the GAA or other issues, but his dour demeanour meant that some people thought he was off-hand and gruff. But when you got to know Eugene you realised that the exact opposite was the case. He loved seeking out people’s views. In recent years we would chat on the telephone and it was clear that his passion on rural issues and his love affair with Gaelic football had never waned.

   In recent years, because he had some health issues, he was not as frequent a visitor to Croke Park as in former times. The last time I met Eugene was in Croke Park at the Roscommon v Dublin Super 8s match last year. He was in good form. We had a long chat about different issues, including blanket defences, club matches, Offaly football, Roscommon football, and whether Dublin would win the All-Ireland again. As we parted that day he said: “You know, it’s nice to be back here again”. He loved the big day – and especially the big day in Croke Park.

  He was a fearless GAA columnist and regularly lashed the GAA when he saw fit. In fact I remember at one stage there was talk about banning Eugene McGee from the Press Box in Croke Park because of the nature of some of his journalistic output. Thankfully sense prevailed. The criticism was coming from one of their own, a man who loved the GAA and who knew its positive impact on communities around the country.

  There are so many stories that I could tell about Eugene over the years, reflecting his blunt, straight talking way of going on.

  I recall one of the first Sundays since Shannonside had begun broadcasting, and on air was a presenter who didn’t really have a clue about sport. At one stage he read out the following: “And the latest score from Ballybofey is ‘Finn Harps 0, Longford Town one point’”.

  The phone rang immediately. It was Eugene McGee. He told the woman who answered in studio: “Would ya tell that bloody eejit that there’s no points in soccer?” – and immediately put the phone down.

   Another story much quoted in recent says is of Eugene’s comment on the morning of the All-Ireland final between Offaly and Kerry in 1982 when a journalist asked him how badly did the Offaly players want to win the match.

  He snapped back: “There are men in that dressing room who haven’t had a pint since last Wednesday night”.

  So many more of those stories about Eugene will be shared this week by those of us who were privileged to have known him.

  This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will do the ‘Darkness Into Light’ charity walk. Eugene McGee brought light and hope to many people throughout the country over the years.

  He was one of the finest men that I have met in my lifetime. An innovator, a deep thinker, a very intelligent, witty and caring man who spoke straight out as he saw it, and who never suffered fools in any walk of life. We won’t see the likes of him again. To Marian, Linda and Conor, I extend my deepest sympathy.




Subscribe to this RSS feed