Well, the new minority Government is in almost full swing.
Here in Athlone we had the first full ministerial visit from that Government. Last Saturday Minister Shane Ross, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, came to Longford-Westmeath at the invitation of junior Minister Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran.
He brought Shane Ross to County Longford to look at some roads which I expect need finance. Then he brought him to the Greenway, the cycleway between Mullingar and Athlone, for which Westmeath County Council are seeking extra monies to extend beyond Garrycastle across the Shannon and on towards Galway. He then brought him to the Civic Centre where the councillors were invited to meet and speak to the Minister.
By all accounts that proved to be an interactive and good meeting. He was brought from there to the Castle in pursuit of the tourism remit and from the Castle to the Institute of Technology, which is seeking to become a university. From there he went to open Boxer’s constituency office and then attended a barbecue in Coosan. I have no account of how that went but I am sure it was also a success.
I am equally sure that a Dubliner like Shane Ross must have been truly exhausted by his Midlands tour, but I understand he held up well and was in great form from the way he was received everywhere. He was accompanied everywhere on his trip by Boxer and by the two Independent Alliance councillors, Cllr Ailish McManus and Cllr Michael O’Brien of Moate.
He was very clever in that he made no false promises but listened carefully to everything that was said and I have no doubt there will be fruit within a reasonably short time from that Midlands encounter.
Then this week we had the announcement from Richard Bruton, the new Minister for Education and Skills, about a consultation process he is embarking upon in order to seek the views of all the stakeholders in education about the way forward for the next three years. He will have the results of the consultation process ready in the next two to three weeks.
It appears that they have all been instructed by An Taoiseach to have a detailed programme of action in to him within the first 100 days of being chosen for their particular brief. Richard Bruton, as I know him, is a hardworking Minister and I have no doubt the Department of Education will benefit from his presence in Marlborough House. I was his shadow opposite number from 1994 to 1997 in the jobs portfolio so I know his form and the way he operates.
Leo Varadkar, the Minister for Social Protection, was sort of ‘sulking’ for the last couple of weeks, but he has come out of it now and last weekend he made an announcement regarding the Job Bridge scheme. Now, I hope he does not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, there were faults in the scheme but it did enable many young people with skills and education to get a foothold in the job market and to progress from there. We will wait and see.
The success of this minority Government is going to require huge skills on Enda Kenny’s part, on the Government’s part, and particularly on the part of Micheál Martin as the Leader of Fianna Fáil, the main party in opposition. So far so good, but there will be storms ahead and there is an ever-vigilant media waiting to pounce. Whether in the wake of a small gale or a larger event, many are ready to proclaim once again that this Government cannot and will not work.
Michael McGrath, on behalf of Fianna Fáil, scored a political win last week in Dáil Éireann when his Finance Bill to request the banks to lower their variable interest rates was agreed and passed despite protests from Michael Noonan, the Minister for Finance. We will see how that develops.
Last week, the Dáil debated the final draft report by the subcommittee of 19 TDs, chaired by the Ceann Comhairle, Seán O’ Fearghaíl, who were given the job of proposing reform in the operation of the Dáil.
The most thoughtful suggestion and certainly the one that was most productive was the emphasis on Government departments, State agencies and Ministers to answer questions fully. Quite often the Minister and the Civil Service give a partial answer often obscuring the main facts requested and deliberately not giving the full story. To my mind that would be a real cultural and most worthy shift in Dáil reform. Also, there is to be more time. We will be monitoring all of this as time goes on.
Now, what do the readers think about the debate in the UK on leaving Europe? Within a month the voters in the UK will be asked in a referendum whether they should stay in Europe or leave. Boris Johnson, the ex-mayor of London and Conservative MP, heads up the Brexit side of the argument. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, heads up the opposite side.
There have been some very lively debates and more will follow I am sure. On Wednesday of this week, there is a full open debate between Boris Johnson and David Cameron on Channel 4 which I am sure will be exciting and provocative. Boris Johnson is a very provocative politician. David Cameron, quite the opposite, thoughtful and reflective. The pollsters in the UK are forecasting a very close result, but they have been very wrong before but there is no doubt that sentiment and voting intentions are close.
That is all for this week, talk with you again next week.
In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go fóill,