Milestone birthday celebrations for our President as apprenticeship system receives upgrade

Hello to all the Advertiser readers.

How many of our readers sat down in anticipation of the encounter between the Irish rugby women and the French rugby women in the Six Nations last Saturday? I know I did, and of course we know that the result was such a disappointment for Ireland. This is not to completely dismiss the efforts of the Irish team; it is just that the French team are semi-professional, and with all of that at their disposal they were in the mood to obliterate Ireland. Parts of the match were good from Ireland’s point of view, but in the end the professional tone and actions of the French team had their own tale to tell. Ireland has to decide is it to go ahead along the path of providing finance and professional help to the Irish women’s team if they are to continue in the Six Nations. Time will tell if that will be the course of action.

Now in all our talk of sport, I never alluded to the fact that Athlone Town soccer is now top of the First Division. It is certainly a wonderful leap forward for them. You know, down through the years, Athlone Town was a very well-respected soccer team and then somehow they dropped from that role to being always down the line. But we should savour their fine place, as of now, at the top of First Division.

In so doing, I would like to pay tribute to the person who writes so fervently and so faithfully of the sports scene in Athlone: step forward, John Dingle. For years and years, John has been the person who, as I said, has written so faithfully of the sporting scene in Athlone and Westmeath, and in particular the whole soccer scene.

We’re still on sport, and this time it’s about Robbie Henshaw, our esteemed national rugby player from Athlone. He, along with four or five others, has been put forward to be selected as European Rugby Player of the Year. I have already registered my vote, as I know many others have. This is like the Eurovision; it isn’t so much who is the best player – we know Robbie Henshaw is – but it is how many votes he can garner. It would be a great accolade for him personally and of course for us in the town of Athlone.

If we look back on the week that’s gone by, the one event that stands out with great clarity is the 80th birthday of our President Michael D. Higgins. He is pictured smiling in every newspaper, out in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin with his two dogs or inside talking to a variety of people. He always wears the lovely three-piece Irish tweed suit, and with his ready smile and flow of wisdom is truly a president of whom we can all be proud.

There were two TV celebrations. On The Late Late Show last Friday night, Ryan Tubridy went up to Áras an Uachtaráin and had a fine 40-minute personal interview with the President. There were some fascinating glimpses of different matters between them, and always the smiling figure of our President. On Sunday night on TG4, we had another raft of tributes and various singers, writers, poets and people giving special praise to the President – again, a lovely show.

We are so lucky in this time of upset, with the pandemic and of all of the ills we have gone through, that we have a couple like Michael D. and Sabina to head up our nation.

There was a marvellous development on the educational front within the last few days. Minister Simon Harris, who is Minister for Higher and Further Education and Research, has been talking for some time about the need to upgrade the apprenticeship system in Ireland. He has now come out with his plan which aims to have up to 10,000 apprentices a year.

He has laid out these ideas very plainly. In all areas of life, there will be progression of excellence through the proper apprenticeship system, which will aim to include female apprentices at all levels and also those who have been disadvantaged up until now. There’s going to be a bursary programme and a huge number of apprenticeships in areas never spoken of.

I think this is really good, and I am more particularly interested that he has begun to talk about the need to have the apprenticeship system and further education included in the CAO system when young people are ready to leave second-level education and move on to what? Heretofore, there was a such an emphasis on moving into third level that the other areas of work and life, of which we’ve just been speaking, were almost totally ignored.

All this sounds very wonderful and also very right and correct. But to me, the biggest difficulty that Simon Harris will have to undertake is to somehow strip away the mystique which goes with getting a place in university, and the overwhelming emphasis on that in young people’s minds and more particularly in the minds of parents.

Now this plan is embryonic at the moment, but I have no doubt, given the determination of Minister Harris and the fine ideas he has begun to espouse, we will hear more and more of it as time goes on.

Imagine, I was reading at the weekend that the man who is now in charge of the rail network in Ireland (no, it’s not Enda Kenny! ) is called Jim Meade. And how did he come to that fine job? Well, he was an apprentice one time in CIÉ as a mechanical engineer, and he worked his way gradually up through the system.

So, there is fine weather all round but don’t go mad just yet. Take it easy on your various excursions, and above all remember we still have to stay safe and stay at home as much as possible.

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

Slán go fóill.

Mary O’Rourke


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