Stormont Assembly finally resumes as candidates prepare to brew up a general election storm

Oh, so much to talk about, so much to discuss. So where do we begin?

For me, and I’m sure for many of the readers, the biggest event over the last few days has been the setting up of the Stormont Assembly with all of the Northern members present.

Last Saturday, I turned on RTÉ Today and followed the whole proceedings. I was so pleased to see Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and all of the other parties there, with their nominees for positions in the Northern Parliament.

I was particularly interested and enthused by the unanimous selection of Alex Maskey of Sinn Féin to be the Speaker of the House. This was highly unusual, but of course most welcome, and was an open proof that there had been some prior collaboration between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

Anyway, away they went, and the various Ministers were appointed, including Naomi Long of the Alliance Party, who had resigned as an MEP and come back to take up place in the Assembly. She was appointed Minister for Justice.

Conor Murphy of Sinn Féin is the Finance Minister, and indeed he was not slow to tell Boris Johnson, who arrived on Monday, that they needed a lot of money, as had been promised to them by the British Government if they got the Assembly running.

Both Julian Smith, who is the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and our own Simon Coveney here in Ireland worked so well together on this joint mission that there was no doubt their stamina and forces of persuasion finally clinched the deal.

Yes, it was great, and I thought back 20 years to Bertie Ahern, Tony Blair and all of the other participants who had worked so hard to bring about the Good Friday Agreement. For them it must have been sweet to see them coming together again.

My only hope and aspiration now is that the Assembly will sustain itself on this occasion. There is so much to be done for people living in Northern Ireland, and I feel sure that it was the threat of another election, which Julian Smith intended to call on January 13, that finally prompted all the parties to come together.

Now we move from that to the political situation here. As I am compiling this column, it is now clear that the General Election will be held on Saturday February 8. So readers, beware, there will be a lot of election talk in this column for the next few weeks.

Already the runners are in the field, and tension is mounting.

I am so looking forward to the daily following of the campaign on radio and TV, up and down the country, and to hearing of the many stories which will evolve.

I am sure there will be lots of surprises, and I genuinely wish, for all those who are contesting, that the weather will be somewhat kinder to them than has been evident in the last week.

That brings me very neatly to Storm Brendan, which we had on Monday. I often think in the Midlands we escape the worst of these storms, because they are usually associated with very high seas and winds in coastal areas. Still, we had the high winds and a reminder that the storm season is upon us.

I like the name of the storm – Brendan. It brings to mind Brendan, the great Irish navigator who, hundreds of years ago, set sail from Ireland and was deemed to have been the first person to set foot in the ‘New World’ which was formally discovered so many years later.

So Brendan the navigator became Brendan the storm-maker, and somehow the name Brendan brought us closer to the climatic events which were happening in our country.

Then last weekend, we had the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition in the RDS in Dublin. I think this is a very important event in Irish life, particularly, of course, for the many students who exhibited at it. It is an important platform for ensuring a continuing interest in the STEM subjects in Ireland – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

It was lovely to see the daily enthusiasm and interest of the young people, and interesting, too, to see that the female representation was 60 per cent to male 40 per cent. Imagine, it is the 56th time this exhibition has been held.

So, we come to rubgy. I suppose the biggest event in rugby last weekend was the granting of €20 million to Connacht Rugby to give them an updated and modern pitch in Galway.

Firstly, they had been allocated €10 million, and some mysterious osmosis then happened and the following morning that was converted to €20 million. I saw a big article in The Irish Times on Monday wondering how this came about. I could give the writer a very simple reason; it is because we are entering into a General Election. But of course, it is also a very good cause, and I defend the granting of money to Connacht Rugby which has lifted itself up from the ground.

Many readers of this column will be aware that I spoke at length about this matter before, and I retain a very strong interest in the overall rugby scene, and particularly Connacht.

They’ve had a very bad record, in the last number of weeks, at winning on the field, even on home turf, so I hope this uplift and the plans for the future will somehow energise the players to give us the kind of rugby we had been expecting from Connacht, and which unfortunately has not been happening.

Of all the Irish teams, of course Leinster is away the best, but the other teams are experiencing defeats and setbacks.

Let’s hope it all improves in time for early February.

There’s a terrific film on show at the moment in the Irish cinemas – 1917. It has come here to the Athlone cinema, and it is my intention that my cinema-going friends and myself will make a visit there very soon.

This film has achieved five stars in all the reviews, which is difficult to obtain, and I understand it is certainly a film worth seeing.

If any of the readers get a chance, they should go to see it. I feel it is one worth viewing.

So we press ahead with the General Election and all of the arguments which will ensue, as well, of course, as the debates between the leaders both on RTÉ and Virgin Media One. Imagine, so much interesting viewing and listening in store for the next three weeks!!

That’s 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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