Gerry talks retirement, and our World Cup hopes are dashed

Well, Sinn Féin had a very successful and satisfactory Ard Fheis last weekend.

A huge crowd of supporters, some wonderful speakers, and the air laden with emotion from the anticipation of what Gerry Adams would say when he would give a forecast of his retirement. He did all that. There was huge tribute paid to the departed Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams laid out his route to retirement in 2018. The theme of the Ard Fheis was ‘A United Ireland’, and on that score the members of Sinn Féin can be satisfied that their message was given with great emphasis.

There is much talk of why Ireland failed in their bid to host the International Rugby World Cup for 2023, with many commentators saying that their bid was naïve and not well thought out. In the end, money talked and the French were able to put forward to Scottish Rugby a very attractive monetary package, which they bought and discarded their earlier decision to support Ireland’s bid.

I myself follow that line, but I am also imbued with the idea that there was plain rugby envy behind the decision of Wales and Scotland not to support Ireland. After all, they were all in the original Six Nations and there was, I think, jealousy as to how well Ireland is doing on the rugby field in the last few years. Be that as it may, we failed in our bid, and I know there was a huge feeling of let down among the members of the Irish bid.

Then, allied to that, we lost our bid to get the European Banking Authority to come to Ireland. Apparently we lost this on the toss of a coin, to France again. Macron has definitely his finger in all of these pies, and it is hard to blame him. He is doing everything he can for his own country.

Over the weekend, we had the Ireland versus Fiji rugby match, which I watched with growing trepidation on Saturday evening. Now, we all know that Joe Schmidt put forward an experimental, young, untried team so that they would get the itch out of their legs, so to speak, and would get a turn at the Aviva stadium. But the experiment nearly didn’t come off because the Fiji team proved to be excellent in their game and in their strategy, so much so that for quite a while it was anyone’s game. I am sure that Joe Schmidt was regretting his ‘experiment’, but in the end all came right. The young players had the chance to strut their stuff and some of them may be considered for the Six Nations next spring.

The less said the better about the GAA International Rules match in Perth last Saturday. The Irish team seemed to be going well in the first and second quarter, and then in the third and fourth quarter they lost their ability to score and to defend. The overall result going on the two matches was that Ireland lost out to Australia.

On Monday in Athlone, I had a lovely engagement in the Radisson Hotel. I had been invited to launch the Youthreach booklet from the Youthreach outlets in the West of Ireland – Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon and Galway.

Youthreach has been and continues to be one of the great successes in Irish education. In 1989 (so long ago now ), there was a very high percentage of secondary school dropout at around the age of 15, and Europe decided on a programme through which they would give extensive funding for Ireland to enable this disparity to be addressed. The programme was called Youthreach and it was a cooperation between the Department of Education and the Department of Labour.

At that time, Bertie Aherne was the Minister for Labour and I was the Minister for Education, and we had a very cooperative approach to the whole scheme. We had to go to Europe and make a submission as to how we would deal with it, what we would do, and how it would be delivered to young people throughout Ireland. We got massive European funds towards it and it turned out to be a great success.

Youthreach set up schools and centres where the young people were taught in small classes, where there was a clear direction towards the non-academic approach and an emphasis on the Leaving Cert Applied. It is generally regarded as having been, and continues to be, a really good outcome for young people who for one reason or another just cannot cope with the academic levels in second level schooling. They should have small classes, direct teacher involvement with each pupil, and direct influence on the skills for careers.

It is interesting to note that the German coalition talks following their general election have now ground to a halt, and it appears that Angela Merkel is willing to think about another election rather than start with a botched up coalition which would lead to bad government. One newspaper describes that she is now in the twilight of her career as chancellor in Germany, but it seems that she is determined on having a successful government, so let us wish her well in that. Because, of course, it is important to Europe that Germany remains a strong presence on the European scene.

In GAA social circles, the Lip Sync and Strictly Come Dancing season has begun. Next week, I will tell you all about the Ballygar venue and the Athlone venue, and others to come. Well done to the huge amount of voluntary efforts which go into these social endeavours. It is a core activity for many GAA clubs now and is proving beneficial and lucrative too.

That is my lot for this week.

Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely.

Slán go fóill,

Mary O’Rourke

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