Well, we have a new Government at last and I wish it fair wind as it sets about the business of governing Ireland in a fair and equitable way.
I read all of last Sunday’s papers thoroughly, and apart from one or two articles they were mostly either poking fun at and ridiculing the Government or claiming that they would never last past a few months.
I hate that attitude. We were long enough looking for a new Government. Now we have one and it is up to all of us to wish them good luck and to rest our hopes in them that they will do a good job for our country.
We will have Denis Naughten, TD, at the Cabinet table in charge of rural broadband, wind energy, and many other issues. I have no doubt whatsoever as to the amount of energy he will put into his job and we look forward to announcements from him in the short to medium term.
In the town of Athlone we have Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran in a rotating junior ministry at the Office of Public Works - Seán Canney for the first year and then ‘Boxer’ will take it on after that. It can only be good for us here in Athlone because there is no doubt the lack of a ministerial presence in the town for quite a few years has meant that the upsurge in activity which was so prevalent in the 1990s in Athlone has diminished. So we anticipate great activity from now on.
Yes, of course, bringing government to the people in the ‘new’ way is going to be difficult, time consuming, and will take a lot of getting used to, but it is what we have signed up for and the least we can expect is good activity from the Ministers and good wishes from all of us.
We all remember many weeks ago after the election when Micheál Martin immediately started to talk about a new way of governing, a new way of legislating, whereby the voices of every Deputy in the house would be as important as any Minister, and where the amendment put forward by any Deputy or party would be as important as those put forward by the Government and would be listened to.
At the time everyone thought these were just notions that Micheál was coming out with, but I think the unfolding of it all during the next few weeks and months will mean a changed political landscape.
For Fianna Fáil the road ahead will be difficult, but it can be managed and worked well within the ranks of that party.
I have a long-felt wish and now I am going to express it. I hope we will never again hear from the Government benches or from any of the Government Ministers - “Oh what Fianna Fáil did to them; what they left them with in 2011…..”. I would just say one thing to Enda Kenny – please drop all that kind of talk.
There was a Banking Enquiry which laid the blame fairly and squarely not on the Government of the day, certainly not on Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan, but laid it where it should be - on the international scene and on the backs of the banks. So, no more historical wailing please from the Government about austerity and how it stemmed from the bad old days when Fianna Fáil ruled.
The least we can expect is that that kind of caper will stop and that there will be a heartfelt ambition to work together for the betterment of the country. I do not believe that Enda Kenny is going to ride off into the sunset very soon. I take the point that in the next General Election, whenever that will be, the Fine Gael party will have a new leader, but that is not likely to be for some time yet.
In my view, Fine Gael and the two groupings of Independents did well to come together in order to give us a Government. They should be applauded for that and not be subject to constant doubts about the longevity of that Government.
There is no secret in the fact that I have always said I would have preferred a Fine Gael/Fianna Fáil coalition, but I have also said that I understand fully that it would not get agreement from the Fianna Fáil rank and file. As a result, Micheál stepped into the breach and did, to my mind, a really good job at bringing it all together in the best way he could.
The real test now will be how Fianna Fáil will be able to put forward their policies, agree with some of the Government ones, disagree with some of the Government ones, and yet maintain their core ethos as a party. That will be difficult but he will manage it, I am sure.
I see that Shane Ross, my long-time friend from the Seanad days, has been selected to serve as Minister in the Transport and Public Enterprise Department. This was my home for five years from 1997 to 2002. He will immediately inherit a load of transport difficulties – ongoing strikes in the Luas, pay claims by Dublin Bus, Iarnród Éireann, and Bus Éireann. These will require great concentration of time and effort. I have no doubt as to Shane Ross’s ability, but I am also well aware of the fact that he has constantly slagged off the semi-State bodies in his weekly articles in The Sunday Independent.
I have a word of advice for Shane, if he will take it from someone who has been through exactly what he is now going to go through. I would invite in all of the unions separately, speak to them directly, and find out exactly what their difficulty is, what their attitude is, and how it can be put together again.
That is not to say that he should give in to their demands – far from it. But at least he will get directly from the workers and from their representatives what exactly the ills are in their particular sphere of transport activity. In doing this, he would not be relying on a civil service brief to tell him what way it is; he will hear it directly himself and yet he will not be committing himself to any action but saying to them that he will reflect on everything they have said. Then, after due reflection, he will be able to give of his wisdom as to what the way forward is to be.
After all, Winston Churchill once said: “Jaw-jaw is better than war-war”, and surely it is. So, I would like Shane Ross to take this as a bit of wise advice from somebody who has been there, done that. I always liked Shane as a colleague in the Seanad and I am sure he will well do in his new position.
As I said last week, we have to get accustomed to the new names, the new faces, the new titles, and we will be wishing them all the best for the time ahead. In fact, I will end with the old Irish blessing: ‘Go n-éirí an bóthar libh go léir’.
Talk with you all next week.
Slán go fóill,