Local Papers Commentary
From the Mayo News - 20 Oct 2004
By The Jaundiced Eye
Oct 23, 2004, 20:14

"I won’t go begging"

MICHAEL Ring is hurting still, almost a week after constituency colleague and party leader Enda Kenny opened one door and closed another for Westport’s answer to a vacuum cleaner of votes. "What really annoys me is that there was no need for it. He’s not Taoiseach. There was no need to put me into that position. It’s not what he’s saying, it’s all about giving me a rap on the knuckles," said a disappointed Ring on Monday evening. The Mayo constituency poll-topper was offered the Marine portfolio in Enda Kenny’s re-shuffle on Wednesday last, but felt that this represented a downgrading of his position. "He can put any throwaway language on it, but I was downgraded," Ring reiterated.

I see a poll on this matter - Was Michael Ring right to refuse to take the Marine Portfolio? - on showed that 62% of voters thought he was not right to refuse. There was also some sharp comment on the bulletin board regarding Mr Ring’s a) bad manners in refusing a shadow cabinet position or b) justifiable pique at being given the marine portfolio. Of course the nation’s fisherman and trawler owners now know where they stand with Mr Ring. His attitude probably reflects the wider national attitude to fish – a penance. And as for the sea that surrounds us – it’s a bloody nuisance that makes it very difficult to drive down to Old Trafford for the match at the weekend. In spite of Ring’s seaside constituency he refused the offer – perhaps he had grammatical concerns and did not want to be the only minister for an adjective – Minister of the Marine – in the cabinet. I’m afraid I have no sympathy for the man ever since he sent me a sympathy card following a death in my family – I’ve never even met the guy and I really resented him taking my address off the electoral register and sending me a ‘sympathy’ card. His interview on Morning Ireland said it all – he spoke third-person of ‘them people’ in Fine Gael as if he himself was not actually a member of said political party. An independent who is really a dependant of Fine Gael? A club that would have me as a member? No one doubts his hard work – reputedly writing more letters and sympathy cards per day than perhaps the rest of the Oireachtas put together (and that’s a lot of free Dáil and Seanad post). The real crunch of course is that Enda Kenny may very well be the next Taoiseach. After a long dry spell the opposition politicians can feel that certain aura emanating from the general vicinity of Enda Kenny and Pat Rabitte. They can smell power - a scent or a whiff so powerful that, like Pavlov’s dogs, they are beginning to salivate and shlobber at the jowls in anticipation. I predict that Michael Ring will change his tune as the imminent change of government gets more and more tangible.

Serious blow for GMIT, Castlebar

THERE are fears for the future of the Castlebar campus of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology after it came to light this week that four courses currently on offer in Castlebar are likely to be axed and transferred to Galway. A proposal to cut three diploma courses – Electronics, Computing and Tourism Studies – as swell as the prestigious degree course in Heritage Studies – has been put forward by the college’s Executive Board and is due to be ratified by the Board of Governors next month. It is understood that the move comes as a result of funding shortfalls in the third level sector and it appears that the Castlebar campus is losing out to Galway in the fight for funds. Concern is mounting in Castlebar that the campus will be reduced to a centre offering a limited number of courses, placing the future of the college in jeopardy.

This article in the Mayo News and a similar one in the Connaught this week (unfortunately their website has not been updated for a few weeks so I can’t give adequate coverage to the CT this week) suggests that they are now intent on shutting down GMIT Castlebar campus more or less completely. Effectively that's what they are talking about - the whole thing bar the nursing course by the sound of it. This is a real disaster for the town and could easily kill off future prospects of getting new business to located anywhere within a 50-mile radius.

It's a given that in the new knowledge economy you need third level institutions to provide R&D and qualified support staff. We heard about Waterford IT shutting down their music courses to save money recently. But this is quantitatively different, as it's gutting the whole computer, electronics, tourism and heritage courses. Shame on Galway HQ of GMIT. We always knew there was a certain jealousy (and astonishment) at the success of the Castlebar Campus. Now just as the Knowledge Economy comes to the fore the mandarins say ‘Let’s shut down Castlebar’. It's sheer lunacy. For an institute that is trying to develop an R&D capability in order to support the Knowledge Economy model for Ireland this is shoddy thinking.

If Castlebar is to have any chance of grabbing a ride on the next wave of the so-called Celtic Tiger GMIT is an essential element of the package which will attract new business to town. The courses in GMIT and the R&D capability that college can provide for incoming businesses is surely a major asset to the town? All our jobs are ultimately going to be dependent on a really strong knowledge base. GMIT is fundamental in this. While it’s all very well saying you can have jobs in shops and cafes and the hospital, even the local economy needs to produce wealth on which such service industries are based. We can’t just be a dormitory town for the real wealth producing centres like Dublin and Galway especially if commuting costs increase as they have been doing recently. We have to produce wealth too. So ‘products’ like tourism, software, medical devices, new drugs, R&D and a whole range of knowledge-based outputs and also not forgetting artistic endeavours such as, for example, books, music, movies, scripts or cartoons, could form a real and solid foundation for a healthy local economy. Then the service sector - shops, cinemas and health jobs will have a sustainable basis too.

We know that factories like Volex assembling standard products have now gone to cheap labour locations. The products on which the wealth of the much mooted ‘Knowledge Economy’ or ‘Knowledge Society’ will be based will be significantly different to those of the old manufacturing economy. Virtual rather than tangible – software rather than hardware – ideas and concepts transmitted electronically, rather than loads of boxes heading down the N5 in juggernaut lorries. The new ‘products’ will, however, be based fundamentally on a high level of third level education and the ability to develop and research new products. Of course this also takes enormous existing wealth in order to have the luxury to go down the road of developing products or ideas which may or may not work in the long term. In the R&D game each new venture is a highly risky enterprise. Skill and expertise is critical at a pure ideas level but also in providing the full range of support services that are needed. Thus, GMIT is fundamental to attracting the kind of wealthy companies that can undertake such R&D work whether it be software development, biotechnology research, engineering R&D or even artistic endeavours such as film making or script development.

Heart of the Matter - Our hidden homeless

Homelessness comes under a myriad of guises. That’s according to a comprehensive new study of the issue carried out by the Western Health Board in conjunction with Mayo Women’s Support Service and the Galway City Homeless Forum. Elisha Commins reports. Apart from the visible homeless - people living rough on the streets of cities - homelessness also touches rural communities in less obvious ways. Those living in shelters, refuges, hostels and B&B’s are the "hidden homeless." "A Picture of Health – A Study of the Health Status and Health Promotion Needs of Homeless People in the West" looks at the problems facing one the most vulnerable groups in society. Interviews were carried out with 65 homeless people in Galway City, Castlebar and Ballina. Seven of the interviews were undertaken with Mayo Women’s Support Service refuge in Castlebar and their transitional housing project in Ballina.

I was in a relatively small English city recently and was struck by the number of panhandlers and obvious down-and-out homeless people on the street. Obvious homelessness – such as you will also see in Dublin. This WHB survey is interesting in that it suggests that even in Castlebar there is a small number of people who are effectively homeless even if not sleeping on the streets of our fair town. Of course we know about the women’s refuge and the valuable service it provides in protecting women and children who have to flee their homes. The snippet above suggests that this is the main problem affecting towns like Castlebar and Ballina. Will the new ‘touchy feely’ Fianna Fail tackle such problems now that Charlie McCreevy has taken himself off to Brussels?

© Copyright 2003 by and the author