Thirty-seven years after he was first elected to public office in the old Westport Urban District Council, Michael Ring was promoted to a front bench position as part of new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's first cabinet. The Westport native was handed the position as Minister for Community and Rural Affairs on Wednesday evening, having served as a Minister of State twice since 2011, most recently as Minister of State for Regional Economic Development.
Speaking to the Mayo Advertiser yesterday morning, before he went into his first meeting with senior department officials, Minister Ring said: "It was a great honour for myself and it's a great honour for Mayo and for the people who have consistently elected me now for 23 years."
Looking forward to his new position, he said: "There is a going to be a lot of work in this, but I'm looking forward to getting stuck into it, the first meeting was at 10am this morning, I have an advatange that I have been doing a lot of this work as Minister of State for the last year.
"My priority is to continue the work we started last year and to try and regenerate rural Ireland, but I have to make it clear I won't be able to do everything, but we have a number of plans that we will be announcing in the next few months and I'll be trying to do everything that I can, we have a lot of town and village schemes that we'll be trying to get up and running and get the money flowing in them."
It has been a long road to the top table of government for Minister Ring, who has represented the people of Westport and latterly Mayo for more than three decades of his political career. "The first time was 1979 I put my name on the ballot paper and at one time I was a town councillor, county councillor, and a Dáil deputy all at one time, when I put it down the first time I didn't think that I'd get this far. But it's great to see that someone can come from the very bottom of the line to the top.
"If I had to have asked for a job, I couldn't have asked for a better one, it's something that I feel is very important and I hope to be able to make an impact in it. When I first was made a minister of state in 2011 in Tourism and Sport there was no sports capital programme, but we got that back up and running and we got things in tourism like the VAT rate, the travel tax changed, and great events like The Gathering and the success of the Wild Atlantic Way up and running."
One rural issue that has often cropped up in Minister Ring's home town in recent years has been the abolition of town councils three years ago; asked by the Mayo Advertiser if this was something he would like to see reversed he said: "Personally, it's something I will be raising at Government, it's something that I would like to see happening, it's not in my brief, but I would support it if the opportunity arose. it might have to be in a different way, you can't have all the town councils we had, but we could have something."