We’ll have to take a big gulp and try to think positively. But it is so difficult with all the troubled news around us.
Firstly, we have the floods. Writing as I am from Athlone, I know all about them, and yet of course they’re in other parts of Ireland too, mostly in Clare and in Leitrim. These echo the floods of a few years ago, which we were told would be once in a hundred, but in fact they’ve come back four years later. The situation for those who live in them is grim and there are no two ways about it.
I heard a woman on the radio and she said she looked out her window and two swans were swimming by. Imagine that for a picture!
Then there is the ongoing Coronavirus situation. Nine cases have been reported in Italy. Somehow you felt it was very far away when it was in China, but it is a different question when it’s in a European country, and of course we fear the worst every day.
Then there is the ongoing difficult European scene, where already Boris Johnson in the UK is proposing to move away from protocols he had signed up to in the Withdrawal Agreement.
And there is the ongoing difficulty about the upcoming European budget, where there is a threat to the CAP payments for Irish agriculture.
Leo Varadkar has quite clearly stated that yes, we will pay more into the European budget, but we demand that our CAP payments be kept at least at the level at which they now are. We are fortunate in that we can ally ourselves to France who are demanding the same from Europe. So Macron and Varadkar can ally themselves on that quest.
So there you have it – challenging news all round. And over it all looms the fact that there is, as yet, no clear pathway towards the formation of a government in this country. As I write this column, Micheál Martin and Leo Varadkar are to meet to talk about talks. Can you imagine such a scenario? Let’s hope they come to some clear path ahead on which they can engage.
Now for a bit of positive news. Next Saturday, all over Ireland, is to be Library Open Day, during which all sorts of events will be open to the public in libraries – not just rows of books, desirable as they are, but free access to all sorts of discussions, talks and further explorations of debates and ideas. I think it is just wonderful how the libraries of Ireland have become hubs of conversation, hubs of learning, and hubs of community co-mingling – no longer the big ‘silence’ notices in every library!!
Last week, we saw the influx into Dáil Éireann of all the newcomers. I was fascinated watching them on TV arriving with their families and well-wishers. I was so pleased to note that there were little tours arranged within the Dáil for the newcomers where they were shown where everything was – the library, the canteen, the bathrooms, etc.
When I was a new TD in November 1982, nothing like that happened. I remember wanting to know where the ladies bathroom was, and being afraid to ask all the then mainly male ushers who were marching around. I found it myself eventually, and indeed settled very quickly into the Dáil business. It was good to know that the newcomers now are at least engaged in a ‘getting to know you’ journey in their early days in Dáil Éireann. I wish each and every one of them good luck as they embark on the path of democracy and the making of legislation.
Last Sunday, I missed the match between Ireland and England in Twickenham. As I told the readers last week, I was invited to a function in Clare in a place near Ennistymon, where the vice commandant of the Mid Clare Brigade, Martin Devitt, was killed on February 23, 1920. Of course then last Sunday was his anniversary.
It was a wonderful occasion from the very beginning at 12.30 Mass, on to the laying of the wreath and then back to the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, where there was the array of the full lists of the Cumann na mBan members and the volunteers of that time.
I was presented with a beautiful painting of the home where my father and the Lenihan family lived. One of the organisers of the day drove me round to the family homestead and on to the two-teacher Gort Town National School where my grandfather taught.
All in all, a great day of nostalgia and commemoration.
Reading about the rugby, as we know Ireland lost. Again, it seemed as if we did not play to our strengths and even Johnny Sexton missed two easy kicks. Robbie Henshaw at least made a try for Ireland.
Readers will have noticed a full-page advertisement in last week’s Advertiser newspaper entitled ‘Pathways’ which told us all about an education and career guidance conference which is to be held on Monday March 30 in the Galmont Hotel in Galway.
All of the main players in post-Leaving Cert education will be available there with their advice and ideas. I strongly feel that this seminar presents a valuable opportunity to fifth and sixth year and transition year students to survey and hear all about that is available. Not just in the traditional third-level university pathways, though they will be all present, but also PLC courses, Army, nursing, and above all a full array of the variety of apprenticeships. I would strongly urge parents and young people, if they can, to get to Galway for this fine Pathways Conference. If you travel by train, the Galmont Hotel is right at the railway station, and Galway is, of course, just an hour from us here in the Midlands.
So note the date, and make sure you get there. It will be well worthwhile.
Let’s hope before we talk again next week that there is some movement on these exploratory talks. I know full well how difficult it is going to be for grassroots members of both parties to come to a resolution. We all know that the electorate voted for change, and in my mind the greatest change is that the two parties with their long-held enmities would come together for the good of the country. That would be some change, I can tell you.
That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.
In the meantime, go safely.
Slán go fóill.