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Straight Talking

Straight Talking (23)

Can someone – or something – please save us from Brexit?




I have tried for weeks to steer away from Brexit in this column – because I was absolutely certain that all sides would see sense and come to an agreement. But now, with four weeks to go, it looks like the UK could crash out of the EU with no deal agreed.

  Looking in from the outside, the whole thing was absolute madness from the very start. David Cameron wanted to quieten the Eurosceptics in his own party and quell UKIP by agreeing to the referendum. The last thing that occurred to him was that the result might have been a vote to leave.

  We all know the political mayhem that had happened since, particularly in the UK. The only thing that I’m clear about is that if the UK crashes out without a deal it will deeply affect us here in Ireland – and we had no hand, act or part in the whole process.

  I simply cannot get my head around the fact that there are a large group of well-educated people who sit in the British Parliament who refuse to see the damage that they are doing to their own country. Then again, when you drill down and see who these people are, it probably makes some sense. The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson are so wealthy and privileged that Brexit will not affect them one iota. In fact I’m convinced that many of these people couldn’t care less about the UK either. It’s all an ego trip for them.

  Then we have the DUP holding Theresa May to ransom and keeping her in power. Anyone who watched the interview with Sammy Wilson on the Claire Byrne programme last week knows what they are like to deal with. The people of the North are going to be amongst those most affected by Brexit, yet they do not even have a Government as Sinn Fein and the DUP cannot agree to work together.

  In fact Sinn Fein could have had a major impact on this whole Brexit scenario if they had set aside their self-imposed ban on taking their seats at Westminster and gone to represent the people who voted for them.

  People in this country should be very worried about a no deal Brexit because I am convinced that despite the many fine words of support, the Europeans couldn’t care less about the plight of Ireland. Just this Monday there was a poll amongst Germans which revealed that Brexit was not in the top ten news topics which they are interested in. A good friend of mine is a regular visitor to Brussels and he tells me that at least nine out of every ten people there do not know or understand what the controversy is regarding the border on the island of Ireland.

  Is it too much to hope that the politicians in the UK will see sense and agree to some sort of a compromise? There are just four weeks to go and the signs are certainly not good.

  We have heard about the potential damage to the farming industry, the food industry and many other areas of economic activity here if the UK crashes out. I was in Dublin Airport last Friday night. In the space of just a half an hour at least 10 planes landed from various airports in the UK. Could you imagine the chaos if every person who stepped off those planes had to go through immigration checks? It’s only a small, simple thing that could happen after March the 29th. Let’s hope sanity prevails – for all our sakes. The clock is ticking.







Is enough being done to address the decline of rural Ireland? 



It is the nature of news and current affairs that the biggest stories of the day always push the less important ones down the agenda in terms of radio and TV coverage and column inches in the newspapers. In recent months here, Brexit and the health service have been at or near the top of the agenda every day and every week – and rightly so too.

  But one story that has not gone away despite the fact that it has fallen off the front pages (and even the inside pages) is the decline of rural Ireland, something that is happening with every passing week and month. 

  We are all familiar with small rural post offices and Garda stations closing and the huge problems that exist with the implementation of the Rural Broadband Scheme. The facts of the matter are that counties like Roscommon are now populated (especially during the week) in the main by people over 50 and by school students under the age of 18 or 19.

  The pub scene during the week is non-existent. There are a number of reasons for that, but a lack of proper public transport is one of the main ones. There are older people living on their own in our county who cannot go out now and who are stuck in their homes from one end of the week to the other.

  I fully realise that there are a number of companies in Roscommon who are giving great employment, but the vast majority of those are local entrepreneurs who have invested in the local economy – and for that we should all be grateful. But just take a look at the level of IDA and State interest in creating jobs in places like County Roscommon. A glance at the IDA visits to the county in 2018 reveals that there were none in the first quarter and one in the second quarter.

  I am not expecting the next Google or Paypal to locate in Roscommon, but areas like our county town have much to offer in terms of infrastructure, access to schools and services, etc. A couple of hundred jobs would make such a huge difference to the area. We have to ask the question…is there a sufficient effort being made to attract jobs to the county?

  I was born and bred in Roscommon and will end my days here too. I am very proud to live in this county but it is sad to see that it is being neglected in terms of our ability to keep at least some of our young people at home.

  I shudder to think what the situation will be in 30 years’ time. Who will be living in Roscommon then? Old people like me and my generation – and that will be about it. There are superb community organisations all around the county keeping the show on the road, but no more than every other area of rural Irish society, these organisations are largely run by people who are getting on in years. What I’m trying to say is that you need young people in every community. They are the lifeblood.

  As I write this, I note that investment has been announced for (rural regeneration) projects in Boyle and Castlerea. This is very welcome, but a drop in the ocean when compared with the money that is being spent in Dublin and other major urban areas.

   There are some genuine people doing their best to address the situation. I know Michael Ring, the Minister for Rural Affairs, personally and you couldn’t meet a more genuine man, one whose roots are certainly in rural Ireland. But the political will is not there at the very top to positively discriminate towards rural areas and counties like Roscommon. It would seem that there is a plan launched almost every year that makes the same conclusions – but with little or nothing being done.

  There are elections coming up in May. It might be no harm to remind the candidates who call to your door that there is life outside the M50 and the East Coast.


Strike suspended, but health service is still on point of collapse


At the time of writing, the planned three-day nursing strike has been suspended. This is really good news for everyone concerned because it had the potential to bring the already beleaguered health service to its knees. Even with the strike suspension, tens of thousands of appointments and surgeries have already been cancelled.

  Nurses’ strike notwithstanding, it seems to me as an observer that the entire health service is about to collapse – as there appears to be problems everywhere.

  The plight of the nurses is well documented. Ciaran Mullooly did a piece on RTE last week during which he asked student nurses about the future. Every single young person he spoke to said that they planned to emigrate when they’ve qualified. It’s a huge issue. We are training our young people for export to the UK, the Middle East and Australia. Retention and pay are huge issues. The Government has to get real and sort out the nursing situation for once and for all.

   But that is merely only one problem in our health service. There are huge problems in A&E departments all around the country, with long delays and patients lying on trollies because of staff and bed shortages. In addition, there are over 500,000 people on waiting lists for hospital appointments and surgery. The figures are mind-boggling, and seem to be growing all the time.

   We then have the situation where there are scores of consultants’ posts vacant across the country, which is leading to further delays in the treatment of patients.

   The GPs are very unhappy too. Last week, hundreds of doctors took to the streets to vent their anger on a number of issues, not least what they claim is a major lack of investment in the primary care sector.

   If that wasn’t enough, psychiatric nurses are also up in arms about the deficits in their sector and what they are calling ‘years of neglect’ of the mental health area. To put the tin hat on the whole situation, ambulance drivers are planning to go out on strike at the end of this week in a dispute about union recognition.

  The National Children’s Hospital is now a runaway train as regards the projected cost. It could cost the taxpayer over €2 billion before it’s opened.

  By any yardstick, it’s a disastrous situation. Anyone who can actually get access to our health system is very well looked after by very professional and caring staff, but there is a log jam on the ground that seems to be getting worse with every passing year.

  Many Ministers for Health have tried and failed to address the problems in the health service over the years. Micheál Martin, Mary Harney, Leo Varadkar, James Reilly and now Simon Harris are among those who have promised many great things – and to put the situation right – but it just seems to keep deteriorating. Maybe the HSE is a monster that is too big for any minister to successfully address.

  It was depressing listening to the many people on Liveline in recent weeks who have travelled abroad for surgery and treatment and who report almost instant access with no overcrowding and excellent service.

  Many mistakes have been made over the years but surely it is not beyond the various stakeholders to sit down and carry out a root and branch review of the whole system from top to bottom. Maybe I am being naïve in thinking that’s a realistic goal. But with so many problems in our health service – as outlined above – we owe it to future generations to try to fix it.

  Leo Varadkar is a great man for spin and the throwaway line that looks and sounds good on social media. As a medical man himself, he should set it as a priority to do something about a health service that costs the taxpayer so much money.


A hospital pass to beleaguered taxpayers



Imagine you want to build a house. You sit down with a builder and agree a price. Say it’s €200,000. He goes off with his instructions and starts his work. A month into the job he calls and tells you that he made a mistake and that the house will now cost you €800,000 – and it may even go to €1 million. It’s just crazy beyond any explanation. That would be the end of that.


  That’s more or less what has happened with the National Children’s Hospital project that has caused so much controversy in the past month. The price has gone up to four or five times the original estimate in the space of six months or so. Why does this always seem to happen in this country when public money is being spent?

  I had to laugh out loud when I heard Taoiseach Leo Varadkar say at the weekend (and with a straight face too) that there would be people held accountable for the mistakes that have been made in connection with this project. What planet is he living on? When did anyone ever take responsibility for wasting taxpayers’ money in this country? I have the answer to that one. Never.

  The people who are responsible for this scandal will be treated the same way as everyone else who has squandered taxpayers’ money over the years has been. At best they will be moved sideways, but most will be promoted – and all will retire with big fat pensions.

  We will have a ‘review’ to find out what happened, and that will cost an arm and a leg too. The review will seek to find out what mistakes were made so that we never make them again. What a laugh that is. Sure we never learn from our mistakes in this country.

  The infuriating thing about this scandal is that this hospital is badly needed and this project must go ahead. But that the costs were let spiral out of control to the extent that they have is quite unbelievable.

  The figures in connection with this scandal are staggering. It will be the most expensive medical facility ever built anywhere in the world. A hospital which is under construction in Adelaide in Australia is expected to cost €1.5 million per bed, which is considered very expensive. Not when our National Children’s Hospital comes into the reckoning though. At the moment the price is €3 million per bed – and rising.

  I am not a construction, medical or financial expert, but like every other ordinary person I am struggling to get my head around the scale of this scandal. In the Sunday Independent at the weekend there was a list of the estimated costs (so far). It was 80 million for this, 90 million for that, 55 million for the other…in a list of about 30 different headings. It was mind-boggling to look at in black and white. Remember, this is your money and my money.

  I am not naïve enough to believe that a top class Children’s Hospital could be built on the cheap. These projects are very expensive and this one has to be done, but we have cocked this one up big time. Work has already started and it’s too late to put the brakes on now. But people being held accountable? You must be joking. On to the next scandal.






























































































































































































































































Why I believe it’s time to curb gambling advertising


I hate the concept of a so-called nanny state. The less the Government interferes with the private lives of people the better, as far as I am concerned. But there are times when something has to be done for the greater good. In that case it’s time that something was done to curb the massive amount of gambling advertisements on TV. They are on morning, noon and night now.

   Never mind horseracing – switch on any live Premier League game and not only is every single ad for a gambling company, a lot of the teams are actually sponsored by betting firms too. But it’s not confined to soccer. Rugby, snooker, darts and even the GAA are affected. Last Sunday during the Monaghan v Dublin game on TG4 there were a number of ads for betting companies. 

  I’m certainly no prude in that regard – and I enjoy an odd small bet – but for the many people who have a problem with the level of gambling they engage in, to have these ads in your face almost 24/7 must be incredibly difficult. The advent of smartphones means that you can now bet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

   In recent years here in Ireland many young men in particular have become obsessed with gambling. Their social interaction is often dominated by the odds for this, that and the other. I looked up some figures for this article – and they are astounding. In Ireland we gamble just over €5 billion per year, which works out at about €10,000 per minute. It’s estimated that Irish people lose €2.1 billion per year gambling, and by far the biggest form of gambling involved is online. Ireland has the third biggest per capita rate of gambling losses in the entire world (after Australia and Singapore).

  Most gambling ads are glitzy and glamorous and portray people having fun and winning loads of money, and for many of those involved it is harmless stuff, but all these ads are going out all day long when young, impressionable people – the vast majority of whom have smartphones – can easily become hooked. There is no ‘watershed’ with regard to these ads, unlike the situation which applies for alcohol.

  I have seen at first-hand – people I know personally – the devastation that an addiction to gambling can have, not only on the person themselves, but on their family and friends. There have been severe restrictions on alcohol and tobacco advertising in the past couple of decades and I believe that the gambling industry should be treated the same.

  There should be a curb or indeed a ban on betting company ads  during live sporting events. Failing that, every ad should have a warning about the dangers involved in betting. The link between betting and sport is also something that has to be looked at.

  The figures show that the number of problem gamblers over the age of 16 has risen by one-third over a three-year period. I have a bet myself from time to time and enjoy an evening or two at the Roscommon Races every year, but it would be no harm for the Government to look into the wall to wall advertising on TV that we are currently experiencing from the betting companies.

  Just look at the profits achieved for all these betting companies. They are only going one way. But at whose expense?


Our pubs are in jeopardy…is farming next?




It would be naive in the extreme to expect society to remain the same as the years go by. Naturally, it keeps evolving and changing. However, a number of the changes that have happened to Irish society in the past couple of years are really stark and maybe not for the general good either. Rural Ireland is changing so fast, at times it’s hard to keep up. And there is much more on the way.

  The pub scene in country areas – which was part of our society for many decades – is now almost over. Save for a Saturday night,  pubs in small towns and villages all over the country are close to being empty during the week. Price is a factor of course, but the tougher drink-driving laws and the stiffer enforcement of those laws is spelling the deathknell for the pub scene.

   I know that you simply can’t argue with the science and it is absolutely impossible to take issue with the relatives of victims of drink-related accidents. Not for one second would I ever condone drink-driving…but the facts are that people in rural areas are now terrified to go out and have a few drinks. People who act responsibly and who get a lift/taxi home, are now afraid that they will be over the limit when they get up for work in the morning. Even if you go in for a few pints during the week there is a fair chance that you will have no way of getting home. There is no public transport in much of rural Ireland and the taxi service in rural areas is very patchy, especially on week nights.

   A friend of mine said to me at the weekend that he socialises on a Saturday night, but is now fearful of going out to get a newspaper/litre of milk the following morning. Whatever the reasons behind it, this is a huge change in Irish society. There are many people who would say that it’s no harm at all, given the problem that we have with drink as a nation – but it has driven drinking into the home, where there is no regulation at all.

  There was great fun and social interaction for people in the pub for many decades and the vast majority of pub-goers could enjoy that without it becoming a problem for them.

  Mind you, even that change in rural Irish society will pale into insignificance if the recommendations contained in last week’s report from the top medical journal in the UK, The Lancet, are to come into force. They say that in order to ‘save’ the planet, people should give up eating red meat altogether and have chicken and fish once a week. We should eat vegetables and fruit and lentils and nuts, according to the report. Such a change in habits would in my view essentially signal an end to farming in Ireland as we know it.

  We are turning into a ‘coffee shop society’ where people either cannot afford to go out to the pub any more, aren’t interested in doing so, or, for the reasons outlined above, are afraid to. But what will happen if farming as we know it disappears?

  Yes we will have to grow vegetables and feed our people some way or other – but it’s a fairly depressing prospect, to be honest.











After the pirates, the revolution…



By the 1st of January 1989, most of the pirate radio stations in Ireland had closed or were in the process of closing down. The Radio and Television Act of 1988 introduced heavy penalties and potential jail terms for those who might support or advertise on such stations. This of course was paving the way for legal commercial local radio in Ireland and most of the new stations opened during the course of 1989.

  Locally, Midwest opened in the early summer of 1989, while Shannonside (as it was then) started out in November 1989. It was a brand new industry in the country, and one which this year celebrates its 30th birthday. Local radio is now part and parcel of the local community all over the country and, like local newspapers, the GAA and many other rural organisations, it is here to stay.

  I was part of the Shannonside team that started life in Castle Street, Roscommon, where, under the management of John Morrin and Joe Finnegan, a new chapter was written in local media coverage. There were marvellous people involved. They were young and full of ideas. All involved worked very hard. I’m sure it was the same story in every other station throughout country. It was such an exhilarating time. But in truth we made many mistakes too. It was a new business. We were learning as we went along.

  Those early years were exciting and challenging in equal measure. I met many people over the years in local radio who are now friends for life, and many of the talented people I worked with have gone on to be stars on national TV and radio. There is definitely a book or two in the many experiences – both good and bad – over the years. At its inception, the local radio industry was looked upon with suspicion, but as time went by most people accepted that the service would add to the local community and that it wasn’t not a threat to anyone.

  However, there was also a commercial reality. Once the initial couple of years were completed, these new radio stations had to stand on their own two feet and make money – which was easier said than done. Shannonside subsequently joined with Northern Sound, and the station has since been bought by the Radio Kerry Group. Similar deals have been done all over the country as stations try to consolidate and survive.

  It’s hard to believe that the local radio industry is thirty years old this year. I’ve been part of it for most of that journey, and the memories are mostly positive. In terms of news, sport and current affairs, it had added to our lives, particularly in rural Ireland. Long may it continue.



Climate change…and loose change!


Last Sunday I happened to tune in to one of Marian Finucane’s twice-weekly shows – I often think of it as her ‘chats with her friends’. I will remind readers that Marian’s RTE salary is approximately €300,000 per annum. In any event, when I tuned in, the panel and presenter were chatting about climate change and the proposed carbon tax.

  One of the panel members was Professor John Fitzgerald, a climate change guru and recognised expert in that field. The TCD professor is a regular on our screens and on the radio, and comes across as a very intelligent and affable chap.

  However, some of the stuff he came out with was quite incredible. I am not for one second denying the huge problems we face with regard to the damage that we have done (and continue to do) to our planet – and there is no doubt that this huge problem has to be addressed. However, imposing enormous price rises on diesel, coal and briquettes, etc. is not going to solve the problem. What it will do is seriously affect many people who live in rural Ireland.

  In many areas of this country public transport is simply not an option. In many cases people have to travel long distances to go to work. What would a 15 cent rise in the price of a litre of diesel mean to their weekly budget? Professor Fitzgerald said on last Sunday’s programme that a second-hand hybrid car could be bought for “as little as €20,000”. What planet are these people living on?

  How many people working in ordinary jobs have twenty grand to spend on a fuel efficient second-hand car? If the price of a bag of coal goes up by a tenner, or briquettes by €1.60 a bale, it will just add to the misery of a lot of ordinary people who are struggling to make ends meet as it is.

  I made some enquiries in this area over the past month or so, as I am currently doing a lot of mileage. I asked five or six experts in the motor trade if I was to change my car what would they advise. To a person they said that diesel was the only choice to make, even if the price of a litre goes up. Electric cars are simply not an option for people in rural Ireland. That’s the feedback I received.

  It was also notable that in the radio discussion in Dublin 4 not one mention was made about tractors and other agricultural machinery products which are run on diesel.

  We have to face the threat of climate change, but the powers that be will have to be more creative in suggesting ways in which to deal with it. There is a real world out there. Heaping further misery and charges on rural people won’t work – it’s not the answer.




Huge challenges ahead in 2019



So we have reached 2019, and at the start of a new year there is always a case for renewed hope on all fronts. We certainly hope that it will be a safe, successful and healthy year for us and our families. But, as we look into the distance, there are huge challenges ahead.

  We are constantly being told that Ireland’s economy has the biggest growth rate in the EU – and there is no doubt that there has been a recovery in our economic fortunes. Leo Varadkar, Paschal Donohoe and their government colleagues have taken credit for our improved circumstances – and that’s fair enough. Employment, in particular, is plentiful, and the most important aspect of any economy is the ability to offer our young people a chance to work in jobs that will provide them with a reasonable standard of living. We are, at least, doing that.

  However, as we enter 2019, we are living in an Ireland where many of those young people who have good jobs – such as Gardai, teachers, nurses, prison officers and others in the civil service – have no chance of ever owning their own house, particularly if they live close to any of our bigger towns and cities. In fact they are struggling to even rent accommodation as prices are spiralling almost month by month.

   We have over 10,000 people homeless, and despite many fine words and countless plans from Government ministers, that problem is getting worse. We have a health system which is bursting at the seams, with hundreds of thousands of people on waiting lists and sick people lying on trolleys in our hospital A&E units as overworked staff struggle to cope. These problems simply have to be addressed and it is not good enough to fob people off by saying that “we are doing our best”.

  Here in Roscommon, we have the same problems which are being encountered in most rural counties. We have very few young people around…except for an odd weekend, and Christmas and Easter. I fully realise that they have to chase the jobs in Dublin and Galway and the bigger cities, but nothing has been done to create employment within our county. Or if efforts are being made, they haven’t been successful. Roscommon is a great county to live in, but ask the personnel at any small GAA club about the alarming fall in the number of young people that are available to play and train on a weekly basis. It’s a symptom of modern-day rural Ireland. The Government has been paying lip service to rural Ireland, and we have the likes of Shane Ross –who frankly hasn’t a clue about rural Ireland – making rules and regulations that will have far-reaching effects on the way of life of people who live in counties like Roscommon.

   I haven’t mentioned Brexit – or the personal debt crisis – both of which are huge issues for people in Ireland as we head into 2019. So Leo, Paschal and the rest will have to roll up their sleeves and address the many problems that we have as we head into 2019. A lot done maybe, but very much more to do.

  Happy New Year to one and all!

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