Remembering a sporting icon who left an indelible mark as COVID-19 concerns remain

There is great mourning this week over the death of Jack Charlton. But it is mourning mixed with reminiscences, all of them happy ones, of when Jack was in charge of the Irish soccer team and the wonderful spirit it engendered in the Irish people of all ages.

I remember a very interesting story for me at that time. I was Minister for Education in 1990, when Italia ’90 was on, and the evening of the match we closed the front doors of the Department of Education – imagine! Everyone on the floor crowded into my office, and we all looked at the match and cheered and gloried in all of it. Then when it was over and everyone had scattered, myself and another person from the department left Marlborough Street and went on up into O’Connell Street. There we walked up and down each side, singing and shouting and linking arms and waltzing along the street, in tune with everyone else. There were thousands out that night in O’Connell Street, all cheering and shouting ‘Olé olé olé’ and all of the other songs of that period.

So far, so good. Next morning, I went into Dáil Éireann and to the whips’ room where the Ministers assembled before the start of business. Charlie Haughey as Taoiseach was there to line us all up, and when I came in he said “Oh, here’s good-time Mary, carousing on O’Connell Street and singing”, and there was a general laugh of disbelief all round.

I blushed and was so innocent that I thought this was a misdemeanour that I could be sacked for. However, Charlie was in great form, retelling the tale to everyone in the room. I don’t know who his informant was, but it surely cemented in me the firm idea that no matter what you were up to, Charlie would keep tabs on you!!

Anyway, we followed all the drama of those Charlton years. There is no doubt that he brought a spirit and a life and an enthusiasm to Irish people, especially those who travelled abroad to the matches. They had collectively taken a vow that as fans they would not disgrace their country, and so they were on pretty good behaviour everywhere. We loved the fact that Jack became an enthusiastic fisherman, particularly on the River Moy in Ballina, where he and his wife Pat bought a summer home and lived there every summer.

These few days, people are remembering him – God rest his soul – and there is no doubt there will be a murmured prayer for him in many a household in Ireland.

I want to talk next about Paschal Donohoe, our Minister for Finance. Last week, he was elected among the other European Ministers to be the head of the Ministers for Finance for Europe. Apparently, the Spanish Minister was the one that was expected to win, but Paschal sneaked in and now he is in that role. It is an unpaid position, and he will combine it with his role here as Minister for Finance.

However, that is not to downplay the scope of the office, and I feel being in that pivotal role as head of the EU Finance Ministers puts him, and us, in a good situation. I am glad that he will be there to keep an eye out for what Ireland needs in the EU emergency budget which is about to be passed in the next week or so, and in which, clearly, our Minister will have a strong role to play.

In my opinion, he is a good Minister for Finance, and he has already established excellent arrangements with Michael McGrath, our Minister for Public Expenditure. There is no doubt they are a very strong team, working together for all of us as we traverse the rocky terrain of dealing with the huge financial burden we have taken on in our economic arrangements for dealing with coronavirus.

The coronavirus is moving into a dangerous stage right now. We have the worry over the next emergence of COVID-19, and the accompanying worries of should we open up the country further, should we increase the quarantine arrangements for people who go overseas and then come back, or for people arriving into Ireland? It is all very much at a difficult situation, and it will require all the medical expertise and political expertise in our country to enable us to come through this stage.

The talks on Brexit are moving apace right now. At the weekend, Michael Gove, who is the UK Cabinet Office Minister, announced that more than £700 million is to be spent on building new infrastructure, hiring staff and developing technology to ensure the UK’s borders are fully operational when the UK leaves the EU at the end of the year.

We are awaiting the upcoming announcements by the UK government to publish specific guidance and measures for Northern Ireland. The transition period is said to end at December 2020, and there is no expectation at all that that will be extended.

We will be saying goodbye in the next few weeks to a giant in the entertainment business in both radio and TV.

Ivan Yates will be leaving his Newstalk programmes and his Virgin Media programmes by the end of July. It is hard to believe that we will no longer hear his good loud voice and strongly-held views as he berates us nightly. I was a regular guest on his Newstalk ‘Final Furlong’ programme, and always enjoyed my jousts with Ivan. You had to be in good form and alert when going on such a programme with him, because you had to be ready to counter every one of his often outlandish arguments – equally so on his ‘Tonight’ TV programme.

I have been asked to participate in a one-minute goodbye video to him which is to be presented to him, in which I said heartily that I would miss his appearances and I would miss in particular his daily and nightly ‘insults’ to participants in his programmes. I was glad to participate recently in a programme he did in which he asked 12 different people to nominate three heroes, alive or dead, in their life. I nominated Daniel O’Connell, the great Liberator; Edna O’Brien, author; and Brian Lenihan, the late Minister for Finance. He gave each of us 35 minutes. I have heard some of the other participants, and it made for really good radio listening.

That’s my lot for this week. Hope to talk with you all next week.

In the meantime, go safely, and stay at home as much as you can.

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke


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