Kenny for Taoiseach?
IT was straight back to Dáil business for the Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny yesterday morning following his electoral breakthrough at the weekend which saw seat gains for the party throughout the country in the local and European elections. With five MEPs, including Mayo’s first-ever Fine Gael MEP, Jim Higgins, and having gained 84 council seats around the country, the stage is now set for Enda Kenny and his team to launch a bid for government at the next general election. Under pressure to deliver for Fine Gael following the party’s general election collapse in 2002, the party leader downplayed expectations in the run-up to the elections, hoping to maintain the party’s existing seats and avoid any further seat losses. Speaking to The Mayo News at the election count centre in Castlebar, Enda Kenny was particularly pleased with the party’s performance in his home county where Fine Gael gained seats in Castlebar, Westport, Ballina and Claremorris, increasing their representation on Mayo County Council from 13 councillors to 15, just short of the magic 16 which would have enabled the party to take control of the council.
I remember when John Bruton – John Brutal as people liked to call him – came to power as Taoiseach. He changed overnight to a man in whom you could have confidence. With the mantle of power on his shoulders you had no worries about him going out there to represent the country or take part in delicate north south negotiations – it was uncanny the change in perception. Of course John Bruton was still John Bruton a solid competent politician whether you liked his policies or not. Until last Saturday the ‘meedjya’ also liked to rubbish Enda Kenny, portraying him as ineffectual or too nice or even too photogenic. So is Enda merely a political bimbo with no substance? The election result has shown that he is capable of reorganising a political party – that’s a given. But I heard him speak at the opening of the John Kirwan exhibition in the Linenhall on the night of the election – the polling booths were just closing. He quipped about the election campaign, he spoke about the importance of wilderness areas, he linked the wonderful exhibition paintings of wintry Achill bog landscapes with his experiences on the 20,000 foot climb up Kilimanjaro last year and also with Jarleth Cunnane’s Northwest passage voyage – Jarleth just happened to be in the audience. He was funny, entertaining, profound and political while talking sensibly about the paintings on the wall. He was as intellectual as anyone I have heard opening these exhibitions and I don’t think he merely had his speech written for him. I could not imagine Bertie Ahern in this situation – cutting the ribbon on a supermarket sure or reading a pre-written well-thought out civil service position – no problem. But Bertie is the man who on the one hand serves a dinner menu of wild Irish salmon to Europe’s heads of state on the very same day when he rubbished the Central Fisheries Board in his own constituency as ‘merely looking after the pinkeens in the Tolka’. ‘Here lads – the finest wild salmon in Europe on your plate – but back home I am doing my best to dismantle the team of scientists who more than anyone else are responsible for protection of our wild freshwater fish stocks’. I would hate to hear what Bertie would make of paintings of beautiful North Mayo bogs. I look forward to reading about ‘An Taoiseach Enda Kenny’ in the local and national papers. But there is a sting in the tail of course. The only problem I have is that Fine Gael still have so many auctioneer-councillors, so many land-owner councillors and TDs. These same people are more than a little responsible for the blight that is slowly but surely devastating the very landscape that painter John Kirwan was celebrating – or at least trying to preserve a glimpse of what it was like for posterity in his paintings.
IT was Castlebar’s Davitt House last year, but it could be Government Buildings in Ballina that makes this year’s industrial relations headlines. The announcement by the Minister for Transport, Seamus Brennan, of the establishment of a new Driver Testing and Standards Authority to deal with the driving test backlog, hasn’t been met with enthusiasm among civil service staff in Ballina, where the new authority is to be based. Speaking to The Mayo News this week, Blair Horan, General Secretary of the CPSU (Civil, Public and Services Union) which represents staff in Ballina, explained that the posts in the new authority would be classified as "non-civil service." Existing civil servants in Ballina who take up the new posts would be denied access to the promotional opportunities arising for civil service in Mayo as a result of the decentralisation of two government departments to Claremorris and Knock.
The queues for driving tests are outrageously long – longer than the queues for replacement hip operations. The reason is that there are not enough testers to undertake the tests. It’s simple – all they have to do is employ more testers. Presumably these people are, or could be self-financing, so there’s no cost to the state – and even if there was perhaps the state does have to bear some of the cost of road safety measures such as driving tests. But the current insidious ideology that permeates government at the moment dictates that we cannot employ more ‘civil servants’ so we let the queues grow and grow and grow. But government politicians crow about how wonderfully well our economy is doing. And one of the consequences of a burgeoning economy is more cars on the road. So it hardly comes as a surprise that more driving tests are required. But no more testers can be employed because the ideology does not permit more civil servants. A few days before the election they announce that they will set up a ‘non-civil-service civil-service’ body to test drivers. This is an ideological wriggle to get around the fact that in the end the country really does have to employ more driving testers in order to shorten the queues and get people on the road legally and safely. The non civil-servants civil servants.
‘Cowboy’ life jackets
WITH the June bank holiday the weekend when many boating enthusiasts return to the water, new life-jacket regulations have come into effect, but not without some debate in the county. From now on, life jackets must be worn on boats of less than 23 feet (seven metres) and lifejackets must be carried on all craft regardless of size. However, the Chairman of the North Western Regional Fisheries Board, John Walkin, has issued a warning in relation to "cowboy" life jackets which are on the market and which are not approved from the Department of the Marine or the British Admiralty, and has criticised the wording of the new regulations which do not specify the wearing of "approved" life jackets.
It’s a bit like wearing seat belts – it becomes a habit after a while – you don’t notice it. I know that John Walkin is an advocate of life jackets himself and he is right to call for quality control of items being sold as life jackets. There is still a big anti-lifejacket brigade out there though. The old argument of fishermen ‘I won’t learn to swim because I will die quicker that way’ doesn’t hold water, so to speak, today with modern satellite alerts and air-sea rescue teams who can pluck you from the water within minutes of a call out. It’s much easier to search for you when you are waving up from bobbing yellow life jacket than it is to send out teams of scuba divers looking for your body drifting along the bottom. But it’s nanny state stuff you say? But by the same token is forcing people to drive on the left hand side of the road nanny stateism too? I have a theory about this form of protest – it’s really a declaration of independence against England. We used to feel that we are putting one over on the old enemy, the oppressor, by kicking back against every sensible rule. It’s an anachronism in the 21st Century but unfortunately I reckon it’s still built into our collective psyche. But when you think about - how does refusing to wear a lifejacket – or a seatbelt come to that - reinforce our declaration of independence? It’s probably closely related to the psychological quirk that moves citizens of the USA to still bear arms in order to fight off the English militia of King George III. But maybe we are not yet long enough independent from Britain to be able to make our own rules even if the recent smoking ban set a headline for other countries who are now imitating us.