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Paul Healy

Paul Healy

No deal risk may be fading, but Brexit challenges remain – Minister

 

 

 

 

 

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee talks Brexit, broadband, rural Ireland…and the election

 

One of the most instantly recognisable politicians in the country strides into the beautiful, spacious foyer of Roscommon’s Civic Offices. It’s Monday evening, and Minister Helen McEntee is in Roscommon for a combination of ‘Fine Gael business’ and meeting and greeting with local enterpreneurs (and agencies).

  Minister McEntee is all smiles. She has a warm greeting for Senator Maura Hopkins (the party’s candidate in Roscommon/Galway). Later, on social media, the Meath native quips that this is her ‘second county’. Minister McEntee is indeed very familiar with Roscommon. Her husband is Castlecoote native Paul Hickey. Later on Monday evening, Minister McEntee guested at a Fine Gael AGM in Gleeson’s in Roscommon.

  We’re used to seeing Helen McEntee striding with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on the ‘red carpet’ in Brussels. The European Affairs Minister has been a key player in the Irish Government team over the course of the marathon and frequently tense Brexit preparations. And it’s a Brexit agenda in Áras an Chontae this evening too. Minister McEntee is here to meet with representatives from Roscommon County Council, Roscommon LEO and local businesses on ‘Brexit preparedness’. Before that, she has an appointment with the Roscommon People.

  Minister McEntee and Senator Hopkins sit down at a large white table, as local photographers click away. The man from the Herald is first in with the B word. B for Brexit, of course. The Minister outlines the purpose of her visit. First and foremost, she will be in listening mode when she meets with LEO (Local Enterprise Roscommon) and local businesses. She is anxious to hear if Roscommon businesses have thus far being availing of services (and funding) put in place by the Government for the purpose of Brexit preparedness. She is hopeful that they have, and if they haven’t, she will advise them of the supports that are there. Minister McEntee is much more relaxed on the Brexit issue now – as compared with a few weeks ago – though certainly not complacent. The risk of a no deal Brexit is now very minimal, she says. There is, however, still “potential for disruption to business”, not least because Boris Johnson wants a different future relationship (with the EU) than that envisaged by his predecessor as PM, Theresa May.

  Minister McEntee says that regardless of what aid is in place, Brexit will still be challenging for Irish businesses. She points out that the Government has been proactive (in its recent Budget, and generally) in seeking to protect these industries. In Budget 2020, €2bn was made available for businesses affected by Brexit, with an emphasis on tourism, agriculture and SMEs. EU funding for farmers (of €50m) is being matched by the same level of funding from government.

  To local issues. I ask the Minister about Roscommon’s lot, reminding her of the paltry number of IDA visits here, and of the lamentable quality of broadband in some rural areas. Of rural depopulation too. Are we being left behind?

  Minister McEntee sees a different picture. Of every ten new jobs being created, eight are ‘in the regions’, outside the major towns and cities. There has been “huge investment” in sport and infrastructure, with €900m in extra funding for roads, schools, hospitals, etc. “We are absolutely focussing on rural Ireland” Minister McEntee says.

  She dismisses the opposition’s calls to scrap the National Broadband Plan – or at least to put it into reverse – saying it’s essential to move ahead and, to borrow a phrase, get it done.

  As for that brief but intense pre-Christmas election speculation a week or two ago, she says it was “never on the cards” – much more important to progress Brexit and ensure that our economy is on an “even keel”. The no deal threat has lessened, she advises, but it’s still there.

  Minister McEntee condemns the recent acts of violence in border regions, while insisting that supports are in place for An Garda Síochána. “Unrest in Northern Ireland in recent months has been a particular concern…minority factions have started to reappear”. It is time, she says, for the Northern Ireland Executive to sit again, and “certainty on Brexit” can help that process.

  Before our time is up, there is an endorsement by Minister McEntee of the local candidate. Senator Maura Hopkins has been “working extremely hard” her colleague says. Minister McEntee believes Senator Hopkins can win back a Dáil seat for Roscommon in the general election. “We are investing in Roscommon, and in rural Ireland, and I think the people will be happy to support Maura in the election”.

  The biscuits and tea are tempting. A quick sip, but the business leaders are circling. In fact they’re waiting, in an adjoining room. We wrap up, and Minister McEntee heads across the hall to her next appointment, her next date with the B word…

 

 

 

 

 

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Roscommon Garda receives National Bravery Award

 

 

A Garda from Roscommon Town was recently presented with a National Bravery Award for his role in helping to save a woman’s life in Dublin last year.

  On October the 31st 2018, Garda Donal Tully and another Garda observed a young woman in the sea at White Rock, Killiney, Co. Dublin.

  Garda Tully immediately entered the sea, swam a considerable distance out to the woman and attempted to rescue her. Garda Gavin, who had located a lifebuoy, entered the water at knee-level to assist Garda Tully. Both Gardaí were then able to pull the woman to safety.

  For his actions, Garda Donal Tully was awarded a Bronze Medal and Certificate of Bravery. The presentation took place at Farmleigh House, Dublin.

  Garda Tully, of Castle Manor, Roscommon, is son of Anne and the late Tim Tully.

 

 

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Cuisle closure: A Friday afternoon bombshell

 

 

The rumours of an imminent meeting began to circulate on Wednesday of last week…two days before the bombshell meeting. For some Cuisle employees, the wait was shorter. Many of the staff only heard on Thursday that a meeting had been called for Friday. Some say they never got any official word of the meeting at all.

  Staff whom the Roscommon People have spoken to insist they have never believed that closure of the Cuisle Centre was even remotely ‘on the cards’. Yes, they knew there were ongoing financial pressures, they knew too that the building needed some ‘work’. But closure? Never.

  A staff member told me: “We had been told, on and off over the last two years, that management was trying to source funding…for electrical works, and so on. We didn’t for one moment think there was any risk of closure. We work in the disability sector…there’s a meeting at the end of the year, there’s a budget, there’s a funding deficit, every organisation wants more money. Nothing unusual in any of that. You hear it every year…you just keep working”.

  The staff had become used to that narrative…year in, year out. For the most part, the staff have been extremely happy in Cuisle. They have the normal ups and downs that are experienced in any workplace. As for the building, they like their physical work environment, but they know it’s not perfect. Not perfect, and subject to the usual financial budgetary tensions. But closure? Never.

  When staff heard about the meeting, many of them were concerned. But they did not expect the bombshell. The meeting began just after 2 pm on Friday. There were two ‘HR people’ present, along with Mr. Tony Cunningham, Director of Housing and Holidays with the IWA. Within ten minutes, the dye had been cast. Closure on the 29th of November. The need for electrical works, and a shortfall in required funding, was put forward as the reason for the closure.

  The message came as a monumental shock to the staff. They were dumbfounded. Some people were in tears. 48 staff. A lot of emotion, a lot of shock. A source says that, on average, staff members have been there “ten or twelve years”.

  After taking a few minutes to deal with the shock, a few people mustered some questions. The IWA now began to talk of the need for a new care model. Staff expressed concern for service users, people from all over the country who will be dismayed – in some cases distraught – at this news. Many of those people visit once or twice a year; many of them have built close relationships with staff. They know ‘Donamon’ and they love Donamon. 

  All weekend, employees of Cuisle sought to come to terms with the news. Shock turned to anger. So many questions.

  Why was there no warning? Were genuine efforts made to secure funding? Why, if funding is the issue, is the focus just as quickly switched to the ‘shift in best practice,’ i.e. a move towards ‘accessible hotel holidays’? Which is it…funding or a policy switch? If it’s funding, is it €1.2m, €1.5m, €2m? Why isn’t there more transparency? Why isn’t there any transparency? Why was the IWA CEO not engaging in public on the issue?

  “We believe this is closure by stealth” a staff source says. “And it was savage that it was announced on a Friday afternoon. Obviously we don’t agree with the closure, but they couldn’t even do it on a phased basis. It’s an attack on their own service. People are so let down.

  “It’s anguish for us as employees, but what is it for the service users? The reaction from service users nationally has been just unbelievable. People are distressed”.

  Cuisle is, after all, a resort…a service provider for people. Many service users have built up a special rapport with staff over the years. Emotions are running high now. One woman rang a trusted staff member and said: “Will you please keep in touch with me in the future, even if there’s no Cuisle…”

  Another upset caller said: “I’m really scared…please don’t give up the campaign to save it”.

  We are in a very strange situation now. The staff, the service users, the politicians, the Divine Word Missionaries, the community…all want Cuisle to stay open, and furthermore, they all seem to take the IWA ‘position’ with some scepticism. Trust? It’s not there. 

  A staff source says some employees believe this can be reversed. That staff member is less sure. “It would take people having to do a u-turn…and ego is the downfall of humanity…but a bit of real humanity goes a long way”.

  A service user from Dublin rang a member of staff they’re friendly with…to discuss the unexpected bombshell. Questions, answers, tears. She loves Cuisle, and keeps coming back. Now this. She had one final question.

  “Why do people make it so hard for us?”

 

 

 

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Courthouse: Flanagan to meet Courts Service today

 

Denis Naughten TD has received confirmation from the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan, TD that the Courts Service is actively seeking an alternative location in Roscommon Town for the duration of refurbishment works to the courthouse.

  The Roscommon-Galway TD previously met with Minister Flanagan on the issue and proposed a number of alternative locations to him that could accommodate the Courts Service in the town.

  “Minister Flanagan has informed me that he is meeting with the Courts Service (today, Thursday) on this issue and confirmed that he will be updated on possible alternative locations. I am hopeful there will be progress on the retention of the courts in Roscommon town as a result. 

  “The refurbishment of the courthouse is urgently needed, and this is an issue that I had prioritised during my time in government. I also met with Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran recently regarding the refurbishment works and the timescale for completion of this substantial project”.

 

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