FOR several weeks now, even without any election having been officially called, Cork South West TDs and would-be TDs have been in full ‘election mode’.
But the pre-election frenzy moved up a gear this week as FG TD Noel Harrington and his Labour colleague Michael McCarthy both pulled out the big guns to launch their campaigns.
The Dunmanway Labour TD brought the Minister for Public Expenditure, Wexford TD Brendan Howlin, with him to West Cork on Monday with a two-fold purpose: to announce Skibbereen’s flood relief scheme, and to launch his campaign later that night in the Parkway in Dunmanway.
The same night Noel Harrington was joined by the Fine Gael party faithful in Kinsale – with no less than the Minister for Marine, Simon Coveney, in tow, for the requisite photo opportunities.
There were some eyebrows raised when Deputy Harrington chose a venue in the northern end of the constituency for his launch – when FG’s strategy has always been to carve up the area between Harrington in the south (his home base is Castletownbere) and Clonakilty-based Deputy Jim Daly in the north.
But Deputy Harrington reassured us there was no split this time: his ‘official’ official launch would still be in Bantry later this week.
Back in Skibbereen, we were greeted by the second government minister to pop into our offices in as many months – in December, we had been visited by Simon Harris in the aftermath of the dreadful Bandon floods.
As well as the announcement of Skibbereen’s flood relief scheme this week, and Minister Howlin’s news that he had appointed consultants to advise him on the Bandon scheme this week, there was also news of a cash windfall for West Cork’s community hospitals.
Deputy Harrington was first to report that €17.87m was being made available to seven hospitals – in Castletownbere, Dunmanway, Bantry, Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Kinsale – for upgrades and refurbishment.
‘This is a hugely significant investment for our Community Hospitals in West Cork, and reflects the Government’s determination to maintain the current numbers of public nursing home beds and to ensure all Community Hospitals will be compliant with HIQA standards by 2021,’ he announced.
Fears for the hospitals had been expressed last year when HIQA fired warning shots about safety standards at many public nursing homes.
Of course, all the candidates were popping up around the constituency this weekend. While Cllr Rachel McCarthy (SF) took advantage of temporary good weather on Monday to do some canvassing, Independent Flood candidate Gillian Powell, FF’s Margaret Murphy O’Mahony and Independent Alan Coleman all appeared at the tractor run in Bandon at the weekend and posed for a photograph together. Bandon is going to be a major battleground with a lot of local high profile names throwing their hat in the ring in the town. Meanwhile, Labour’s Michael McCarthy was critical of remarks made by Cllr Murphy O’Mahony regarding crime levels.
‘It’s hard to stomach Fianna Fail’s lectures on crime and policing,’ he blasted, reminding voters that ‘this is the party that closed Templemore Garda Training College in 2009 for the first time in its history.’
‘Now Fianna Fail has the brass neck to complain that this government doesn’t appreciate the problem of crime in rural communities,’ he added, days after a Southern Star article in which FF candidate Cllr Margaret Murphy called into question the government’s record on closing garda stations.
‘This government re-opened Templemore and re-started Garda recruitment. Around 1,150 new gardai are now being recruited, up to 2016,’ said Deputy McCarthy. ‘That means nearly 300 new gardai already on the ground in communities around the country, with more to come as they graduate.’
Within days, Deputy Harrington was again announcng good news, with €29.6m being allocated for road improvement and maintenance works in Cork. The funding is part of a €298m national programme for regional and local roads, showing that there’s something for everyone in the government’s pre-election coffers.