Well, so much has happened in the last seven days. Each reader will have had their own experiences. I think I must begin by talking with you all about what has happened in Northern Ireland.
When I saw Martin McGuinness’s ravaged face on TV on Monday evening and night, I could not but think of all of the years of work that he and so many others had put into getting the North put together again. Martin looks an ill man and my first wish for him is, apart from the obvious political difficulty that they are all now in, that his health can recover.
I know him so well from the old days when he, Bertie, and others were working together on the Peace Process. Now, I am going to write him a small warm note wishing him well in the future.
For all of us, I hope that the two parties can come together. But I fear there will be an election, and my biggest fear is that there will be no one to put it together again after the election. The Peace Process was always a delicate flower and never fully burst into bloom. It will require careful nurturing now in the days and weeks ahead.
To change the scene completely, I want to tell you all about a visit I made to Cork last Saturday. Cork Simon Community have a wonderful fundraising female committee. Each year, on Nollag na mBan, or shortly thereafter (this year it was on January 7 ) they run a lunch for Simon in Cork. They invited me to be the guest speaker, and I was glad to do the engagement for Simon because I think they are one of the very good charities working so hard for homeless people in Ireland.
I had a wonderful afternoon. Imagine going into a ballroom with three hundred pairs of female, Cork eyes upon you and then having to get up and speak in the middle of great Cork chatter. They were a very good audience and I enjoyed my few hours with them. Cork really is a fine place to visit. The friendship and hospitality I experienced last Saturday were fantastic. I came home, not at all fatigued, but buoyed up with goodwill and good feeling about the fine work being done by the Simon Community in Cork.
I do not know if many of the readers have noticed, but I discern a distinct lengthening of the day each evening since December 21. Particularly on a day which has been bright and fine. Coming back from Cork, we were almost at Portlaoise before it became dusk. That lengthening of the day always gives great hope to me - the older you get, the greater delight you obtain from watching the lengthening day.
But, of course, this is now overshadowed by the ferocious weather forecast we have for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Then, next weekend, we are promised some of the snow, frost, and cold which is sweeping through other parts of Europe. Wrap up well and do not go out unless you really have to.
Did you watch Dancing With The Stars, RTÉ’s version of Strictly Come Dancing, which was on on Sunday night? I just loved it. One of our trio who does the Pat Kenny Book Review, comedian Catherine Lynch, is one of the women dancers and I am looking forward to seeing her next Saturday night. I love the glitz, the clothes, the music, the razzmatazz of it all. It is a marvellous show. Des Cahill looks like being the Ed Balls of the Irish version and his smile says it all. He knows quite well he’s not a great dancer, but he is going to enjoy it anyway.
Great sporting events took place over the weekend. Triumph for Munster and defeat for Connacht. All the GAA counties springing to life all over Ireland and it was great to see the results – though not so good for Westmeath.
I liked the setting up of the County Players Association. I feel they mean well and will do a lot of good for their players in their county. And, of course, we have the rugby internationals to look forward to after a few weeks.
I am sure many of the readers were following the developments in the Department of Health recently. I do wish young Simon Harris good luck in the future because he has a mammoth task on his hand. The whole health business is full of vested interests, each section in it guarding itself with great care and not willing to give way to any other sector. To my mind, the biggest vested interest of all should be the patient. To hear and read of the stories of people, often very elderly people, lying for hours and hours on trolleys makes for very sad new year reading.
Somehow, I feel, that Simon Harris is young enough and smart enough to get his hands on the health service, to get really dug into it and to try to make some sense out of it all. I wish him well and will be watching his progress.
Many years ago, I was, for three months, the Minister for Health. Even at that early beginning, I knew the task before me was going to be gigantic.
And so... farewell to TK Whittaker. He was a giant of a man. By the time I came into politics he had just left the public service, but the signs of him were everywhere, in the innovations he made in the public service, in the smart, bright ideas he had in the way he mapped out Ireland’s future in Europe and beyond and, above all, the zeal and the vigour he brought to the public service. He was truly a man of his time, and TK has left a wonderful legacy to this country. His family can be so proud of what he did for Ireland.
I have so much else to say but so little space in which to say it. In the meantime, we will be glued to TV and radio to follow events in Northern Ireland and to hope and to hope that goodwill can emerge and that the election can be averted.
Talk with you all next week. In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go Fóill,