Brexit a perennial topic as Irish rugby prepares for a future without mastermind Schmidt

Well it’s been a busy week again, but to begin this column this week I’m going to start on a gentler note.

Did you know that from November 26 to December 2, that is all of this week, is Library Week in Ireland? This means that whoever is living near a public library in any area can go into that library any day this week and there will be events everywhere. In some libraries it will be a health information event, in another library perhaps a history lecture, in another perhaps a children’s talk by somebody who will tap into children’s imagination. The events vary in every library, but isn’t it marvellous that in Ireland we have such a vast number of public libraries, and that for this particular week each library is the focus of life, and in different strands? So call up your local library or go along and see what they have on show for this special week.

The Brexit debate trundles on. Last Sunday in Brussels we had the solemn occasion of the formal leaving by Britain from Brussels. Nobody pretended it was a joyful occasion. How could it be? But Theresa May was there to sign the appropriate documents, and all the heads of state including our own Taoiseach were on hand to witness that event.

Of course, there is no rest for Theresa May, she came back on Monday to a very rancorous and noisy debate in the House of Commons and no sign of many of her own side standing up for her either. This week, on Tuesday she was going to Wales and to Northern Ireland to sell her Brexit deal to the people. I expect she is hoping that if she talks over the heads of the elected representatives that they in turn will pressure their MPs to consider voting for Theresa May and her Brexit. So far it does not look very promising from her point of view, but I am sure there are many MPs throughout the UK who are wrestling with their conscience and wondering will they go with it.

On a human level, as I explained last week, I have such a feeling of sympathy with Theresa May. I smiled when she was asked on a BBC Radio phone-in what she does at the end of another noisy day in the House of Commons. She said, “I go upstairs to our apartment which is at the top of Number 10, my ever loving and loyal husband is there, he gives me a hot whisky and we have beans on toast – my favourite supper.”

I just thought that exhibited the human side of her. She is lucky to have a husband who is so supportive and always there for her. In public life, particularly if you are a woman in public life, that is one thing you really, really need, a husband or partner or someone special who will always be in your corner. All my political life I was always lucky to enjoy Enda’s constant presence and encouragement.

Of course, the American president couldn’t be kept out of the debate, and on Tuesday of this week after the torrid arguing in the House of Commons the day before, President Donal Trump came out with the opinion that this Brexit would be very bad for Britain. Can you imagine how Theresa May felt about that, especially after the work they put into his recent visit to London? If I was her I would feel like screaming ‘Fake news! Fake news!’ across the ocean to him, but of course he is going to have his say anyway.

At this point I feel I should strongly pay tribute to the triumvirate of reporters who have kept us informed all along in such a knowledgeable way. I talk about Fiona Mitchell in London, Tony Connelly in Brussels, and Tommie Gorman in Belfast. Each news bulletin when I hear their reportage it is always so calm and collected, but in general so informative. RTÉ are lucky to have three such fine people in the various capitals as the Brexit debate continues.

Where to begin with the rugby? Such an amount of good news and sad news over last weekend! Firstly we had the terrific rugby results, Ireland’s second team you might say, trounced the US, and the provinces had some remarkable wins in the Guinness calendar. But all that pales before the definite news from Joe Schmidt that he would be leaving Ireland after the upcoming World Cup. Due to family commitments he is going back to New Zealand. Both he and his wife have elderly parents back home and they are keen to resume their family life with them, and indeed their own children to resume their friendships and education too back home in New Zealand. For the Irish Rugby Football Union, of course it is a sad and perilous occasion. They are losing a world renowned coach.

To me, Joe Schmidt always represented everything that was good in sport. He was calm, measured and never sought to push himself into the limelight or to make himself important. He went about his business quietly and clearly delivered a punch. All the players remark on the time and the effort he spent going over the games, checking on TV, playing the games back again, seeing where each person could improve, what tactic could now be fine-tuned, and the psychological and character assessment of his own team and each individual on the opposing teams they would meet. All in all, a formidable person. The IRFU have already appointed Andy Farrell who will become the Ireland head coach after next year’s World Cup in Japan, and that announcement was handled in an even-measured way.

Then in Monte Carlo at the weekend, Johnny Sexton got the World Rugby Player of the Year award. The Irish team got the Team of the Year award and Joe Schmidt got the Coach of the Year award. Can it get any better than all of that? We also had the good news that the upcoming Six Nations matches will be shown on RTÉ and that is a great bonus for all of us who will be viewers.

Martin O’Neill leaves the FAI to be replaced by Mick McCarthy on his second outing for Ireland. Let’s hope the sun shines for the soccer team.

The weekend saw another golden girl in Irish boxing. Kellie Harrington from Dublin’s inner city became the world champion at the Women’s World Boxing Championships and came home bearing her gold medal. She beat Thailand’s Sudaporn Seesondee to top the lightweight podium in New Delhi, India. It was a split 3-2 judge decision, but that didn’t matter when Kellie came back into Dublin Airport and later into Dublin city that night to a civic reception, waving her gold world medal. Good for you Kellie!

I have so much to relate to the readers about various events and books in which I have been involved recently, but they will have to wait until next week.

That’s my lot for now.

In the meantime go safely.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke

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