The shock decision to walk away from the Cabinet table this week, which will cost him an estimated €1,000 a week in wages, was based on principled rather than parish pump politics, according to the now former Minister for Housing and Planning, Deputy Willie Penrose.
“Look, if it [the closure of Columb Barracks] was going to save millions, I wouldn’t have been happy but I would’ve gone along with it. I have no problem with difficult decisions, but not stupid decisions,” he stated.
“You can’t stop people saying that, but you don’t know me if that’s what you think,” he said to the Advertiser this week after the parish pump accusation was put to him.
“My word means something. Of course, I could’ve pootled along and played the old game, but that wouldn’t be me. I say what I mean and mean what I say,” stated Deputy Penrose.
“Closing the barracks is not based on hard, economic facts. There’s no sense in the transfer, and Custume [Barracks in Athlone] is going to need up to €3 million to accommodate them. And that’s not including the Reserve,” he said.
“I firmly believe the savings will be putative. Estimated, or guess-timated savings. I mean, how is it [Columb Barracks] going to be secured [after closure]?”
He explained how there was up to 25 acres designated ‘open space’, and a square of listed buildings which would severely limit the re-sale value of the barracks. He also pointed out that in recent years a new gym, mess hall and accommodation blocks had been put in, and the square recently tarmacked.
“I made hard decisions in the Department, all based on rational, and evidence-led criteria, but I wasn’t going to parlay with something I didn’t think is right”.
The Advertiser asked the newest backbencher if this issue had opened a rift with Deputy Penrose and his party leader, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, but he emphatically said: “Not at all”
“My row was with someone else. Minister Shatter brought this forward,” he clarified.
“I brought forward alternative proposals, expressed over a long period of time, and I thought that working with the priniciple of collegiality [within the Cabinet] would’ve allowed cogniscance of this, but it didn’t. Ultimately I hope I will be proven correct,” he added.
“I know how important the Cabinet seat was, but you have to keep things in Mullingar... Look, Mullingar is a Gateway town, and if we’re going to have a national strategy like this, and we’re a key cog in this, then it’s very important to pay attention to this... Mullingar needs things to be kept in it. It needed to be added to not subtracted from,” said the Ballynacarrigy man.
“There’s always an excuse when things are going from the town, and I’m fed up of this,” he said, before referring to the famous quote from the late Tip O’Neill, former speaker in the US House of Congress, about all politics being local.
“You can’t have the macro without the micro, and if you forget about the local scene, you may forget about the national scene,” he explained.
“Of course it [resigning] wasn’t an easy decision, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool, but I can sleep easy now, with the commitments I’ve given. That’s how I operate,” he stated.
“I didn’t get into politics for glory or personal advancement... but I’m still a national politician, and will still have input without fear or favour... What I’ve done, I’ve done,” he stated.
“I’ll have ways and means of having my voice heard, and will continue doing so to the best of my ability. You can’t predict the future, never mind next week,” he concluded.