Bright future for Connacht rugby as May wins the day in UK

So much to talk about, so little space.

Let’s begin with the really good news for Connacht Rugby which has come out just as I am compiling this piece. It is that Connacht Rugby are now going to update their pitch and all that goes with it in Galway on the original site at which they now play and where they have achieved such fame. The CEO of Connacht Rugby Willie Ruane was on Morning Ireland and he was so euphoric and so pleased at the result.

There will be a huge fundraising effort to enable that to come about, but I’m so pleased for Connacht. For so long Connacht was the Cinderella of the Irish Rugby Football Union and indeed it’s not that long ago since I marched at the head of the TDs and senators from Connacht who were in Dáil and Seanad Éireann, to the IRFU headquarters where Bobby Molloy gave a marvellous speech in favour of Connacht Rugby. At that time the IRFU was considering merging Connacht with some of the other provinces and that would have been the end of rugby in the Midlands and in the Connacht province.

Thankfully, it didn’t come about and the result is a resurgent Connacht team who over last weekend had their first win over Ulster, in Ulster, in more than 58 years. Oh yes, Connacht are on the march again and I’m so pleased for them, and I think back with great delight to the impetus we gave the cause when the elected members marched all those years ago.

Leinster beat Munster and it was a good game, so now we are all set for the Heineken Cup championship to come.

What did you all make of the Prime Minister of the UK, Theresa May, and her conference speech last week in Birmingham? You really have to put it in context to get a full appreciation of what she was facing. Earlier that week Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, on two separate days, gave huge speeches on the fringe of the conference, attracting several thousand in audiences and large queues to get in. Boris Johnson was in absolutely downright rebel territory in which he challenged the Prime Minister, her government, the Chequers statement, etc, and it went on and on.

At this conference Theresa May had to do several things, she had to completely establish herself as the person in charge of the government of the UK, she had to dampen down the euphoric feeling engendered by Boris Johnson in particular and she had to do all that with a bit of élan and gusto.

So what did she do? Well she came out swinging, literally, to the tune of Abba singing ‘Dancing Queen’ and she wowed them. Now, it wouldn’t have been my favourite beginning to a conference speech, but she had to do something really drastic and what’s more she carried it off.

This was far different to the dancing she engaged in with the African children, which was a contrived and frankly paltry effort. This was the real thing – but the important thing is, to my mind, she carried it off. She won the day.

What I think was so symbolic about it all was that, the day before, we had seen Boris Johnson in the shambolic way he has of walking on the stage, in a kind of couldn’t-care-less attitude, and then exciting such response. This was really putting the two fingers up to him and saying to him: I can do much better than that! And away she went.

Woman to woman, I say well done Theresa. You carried the day and you needed to do so with élan and with confidence.

There is great talk now that, in the next week or ten days, the UK is going to bring out to Brussels an amended version of the Chequers speech, and one that could find favour with Michel Barnier and Donald Tusk in Europe, and I hope will find favour with the Irish Government, particularly with regard to Northern Ireland and the backstop. It’s fingers-crossed time, and fervent wishes for a decent outcome to what has been a long-running saga.

What can we say about Emma Mhic Mhathuna? As I write this column her death this week has had enormous impact in Ireland. Last week we talked about the courage and tenacity of Rebecca Carter in her fight with the Department of Education. This week we have another young woman, 37 years of age, carrying another fight forward – not for her life, because sadly she knew she was doomed – but for her five young children and for all the other women whose lives were badly shaped by the cervical cancer screening tragedy. This spirit and determination carried her so far, and to such good effect, that for many years to come people in Ireland will remember her as a feisty, fighting woman. May she rest in peace.

Next week on October 16, Martina Fitzgerald, the RTÉ Dáil reporter, will be launching her book called Madam Politician. I know all about it because when she started on her journey of interviewing all of the female politicians in Ireland she called on me first and we had a wonderful couple of hours together reminiscing and talking. She is a fine person and readers will be aware of her as she reports nightly on the RTÉ news. She is launching her book in the National Library (where I launched my own two books ) and I am so looking forward to the event. Martina has kindly sent all of the women she interviewed an advance copy of the book and it’s truly a great read. It will be in the bookshops next Friday, and the week following her launch Martina will be in Athlone herself in Eason’s to do a personal appearance, talk with people and hopefully get some decent sales of her book. Well done Martina on your magnum opus.

This column is all about women this week, isn’t it? And rightly so you might say. But I want to talk with you for a few minutes about the state of the Irish Defence Forces. There’s been a lot of comment, culminating in a giant march to Dáil Éireann recently in protest at the low salary rates, lack of promotion outlets, and various other matters in connection with our Defence Forces. I feel very strongly about this because I come from a town which has a huge army tradition and a great pride in the role that Custume Barracks has played down through the years in the life of our town.

We rely on our Defence Forces in times of emergencies and the least we can do is to give a decent pay structure and a decent outlook for the young men and women who enter the Defence Forces and who hope to make a career of it. I hope the Government will see sense on this question and do the decent thing by the men and women of our Defence Forces.

That’s all for now. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

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