Moments after leaving the Shannonside Radio studio on Friday morning, I was kicking myself. So to speak. I’d been ‘talking to Joe’ – but there was something I hadn’t said.
Minister Heather Humphreys was also on the panel, also reviewing the week that was. When the chat came around to the sacking of Kevin Myers (over a controversial column published in the Irish edition of the Sunday Times), Joe and I vented our opposition to the herd mentality – Joe particularly. Joe more or less said that he didn’t have an issue with what Myers had written. I said I accepted that some of the content of the column had been objectionable, but I absolutely didn’t believe that The Sunday Times was right to sack Myers on the spot (or at all).
Asked for her view (which she’s obviously entitled to), Minister Humphreys said it straight. And entirely predictable. More sheep mentality. Blah, blah, blah. Baa, baa, baa even. The minister’s view? The Sunday Times was right to sack the outspoken columnist. Taoiseach Varadkar had been right to jump in with his tuppenceworth. Safe to assume most or all ministers would have sung from the same hymnsheet that day. It’s amazingly coincidental how often they adopt similar positions. Whatever about actual Garda numbers, the politically correct police will never want for support as long as our play-it-safe politicians are around.
The question I wished I’d asked? ‘Hey, Minister…if one of your colleagues stereotyped the Jewish community or made offensive comments about women – and ‘on mature reflection’ was quick to apologise for offence taken – would you jump in and demand that they resign or be sacked?’
(I’m no particular fan of Mr. Myers, but it’s easy for ‘playing it safe’ politicians to kick a journalist when he’s down, and in the knowledge that it’s populist. When was the last time an Irish politician lost their well-paid job due to making a few loose remarks?).
This time last year, they talked about new politics like we had discovered something special or like our old politicians had suddenly experienced some sort of epiphany. Truth is, there is no such thing as new politics – just new reality. All that was new after the 2016 General Election was the new look to the Dáil seating arrangements. There was no big beast in the corner (Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael), instead, a fragmented landscape.
The people had delivered a troublesome verdict, a verdict so awkward that the politicians had to think outside the box for a few weeks and then package their self-serving behind-closed-doors talks as some alleged fresh new concept. We are told that the confidence and supply arrangement (whereby Fianna Fáil, while still in opposition, props up a Fine Gael minority Government) is new politics, and maybe it is in one sense. But it is more pragmatism than pioneering.
A long-standing lack of courage and leadership in Irish politics remains. While politicians are quick to wade in with populist views (‘Myers had to be sacked’ arguably being the latest example), familiar problems and challenges remain unaddressed by a decidedly unimaginative political establishment.
Priests are in the business of saving souls, not banks (or, more accurately, villages) but here in County Roscommon, the lines have been blurred again, as in the past. Fr. Francis Beirne, PP in Four Roads, and a great community champion whom I’ve known for many years, has spoken out on plans by the Bank of Ireland to withdraw services in rural areas. Well said, Fr. Beirne, but how damning of our political establishment than the clergy and the wider community have to resort to this. Over thirty years ago bishops in the West of Ireland began a campaign to try and prevent the decline of the West. Then, and now, the people of our towns and villages have often been left with very little support from central government as they too fight for the survival of rural Ireland.
Individual politicians are well meaning, hard-working, genuine in their aspirations for our society. But there is no collective willingness to seriously address rural Ireland’s needs. Central Government merely pays lip service. The ‘permanent Government’ – our friends high up in the civil service – barely even bother with the lip service. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we’re being fed tripe.
In Roscommon town the other day, I noticed three new businesses in a row. A pub, a ‘nail bar’ and a barber’s. It is heartwarming. It is also thanks to the sheer courage of individuals.
All over Roscommon new businesses are popping up, while others are closing because their race is run. They have swam heroically against the tide but have had to abandon their dreams. Those SMEs who have started up are brave and deserve our support.
We cannot really give any credit to central Government for these entrepreneurial flourishes. In Roscommon town and county we are patiently awaiting decent jobs initiatives, but they are not forthcoming. Most of the employment comes from heroic small businesses.
Meanwhile, the crass destabilising of rural Ireland continues. Our banks simply cannot be trusted to stay in our towns and villages and maintain the fight. The banks are driven at local level by good people, but their faceless masters are busy behind the scenes planning withdrawal from the rural front. Our post offices are under long-term threat. The establishment ruthlessly pulled bus services from some of our rural areas and have had their eyes on train services too. Hammered by commercial rates and lack of incentives, many shops, pubs and other businesses have closed their doors. In terms of infrastructural investment, we have been victims of discrimination. Our A&E departments have been either closed or turned into places of chaos, heroic staff forced to fight almost impossible odds. Planning laws have been, shall we say, less than conducive to bolstering dwindling towns and villages. Numbers involved in farming and manufacturing are falling. In Roscommon, we are largely ignored on the tourism front, left to fight our own corner, as Roscommon businessman Eamonn Gleeson recently highlighted.
The decline of rural Ireland isn’t all the fault of our politicians or civil servants, but they are certainly negligent. There is either a deliberate bias towards the east and urban areas, or else – just as bad – careless negligence. Every now and again a new report on rural Ireland and ‘the regions’ is launched. When the cameras have stopped clicking and the coffee cups have been put away, the process of breaking promises begins.
Of course there are all sorts of reasons why rural Ireland faces challenges, including due to huge social and cultural changes. But the great communities in these challenged areas have received little enough meaningful help from successive governments, state agencies and (in some cases) big businesses.
Now we live in the Leo era. So Leo, make a real difference. Give us less soundbites and more substance. I won’t be holding my breath.
As for the politically correct police, that’s one area where we could do with redundancies. We live now in a society where people are almost afraid to open their mouths and where minorities rule. Will ‘the Establishment’ only finally be happy when all old traditions have been turned on their heads and when all rural towns and villages have been stripped of their facilities, when we all think and act the same and dance to the tune of our faceless masters?
And, if I’ve offended Minister Humphreys, I guess I’m sorry – but I won’t be resigning.