THIS May bank holiday weekend is being promoted as a time for neighbours to get together, to connect with and get to know one another. ‘The Big Hello’ is a worthy initiative, being promoted by Minister for Community and Rural Development Michael Ring, who has been soundly rounded-upon for giving ‘Ambassador for Rural Ireland,’ Kerry football legend Pat Spillane, his walking papers recently after the Kingdom kingpin was critical of the Minister and his Department for their lack of contact with him to the point where he did not know if he was still in the role or not.
Love him or loathe him as a pundit, the genial Spillane seemed a very acceptable ambassador on behalf of the people of rural Ireland and travelled to nearly every corner of the country to gather the thoughts of the people on what they wanted for their areas, which then informed the ground-breaking report of the Commission for the Economic Development of Rural Areas (CEDRA). One of the main recommendations of that report was that a full government ministry be given to rural affairs and, even though there was a delay until after the current government took office, the beneficiary of this was Mayo TD Michael Ring who became the first incumbent and from whom much was expected.
However, Minister Ring has received a lot of criticism for not effecting any sea change in the fortunes of rural Ireland since taking up office as it is still dogged by the same problems as heretofore with the lack of progress in providing broadband one of the biggest, as this is hindering the setting up of new businesses and creating jobs where they are badly needed. He has also been accused of engaging in the type of ‘spin’ that is typical of the government he is part of – and which fools nobody.
Pat Spillane’s exhortations since the start of this year to be re-appointed as Ambassador for Rural Ireland were ignored by Minister Ring until the former gave a tetchy account of the lack of response to him from the Department to The Sunday Times in mid-April and then got his P45 from the Minister the following day. But, still unhappy with the way he was ignored and treated, Spillane went on the following Friday’s Late Late Show and tore strips off the Minister without the latter being there to defend himself.
A furious Michael Ring complained about his new nemesis being given ‘free rein’ on RTÉ’s flagship chat show to air ‘personal gripes’ and then – somewhat spitefully – released details of Pat Spillane’s fees and expenses paid during his tenure as rural ambassador and overseer of the implementation of the action plan for rural job creation. That seemed a bit petty given that one would hardly have expected the Templenoe man to do it for nothing or without reimbursement of expenses incurred.
On the other hand, Spillane was a bit over the top on the Late Late Show when describing this weekend’s ‘The Big Hello’ as ‘gobbledegook and horse s**t.’ Addressing government ‘spin,’ he dismissed proposed rural roadshows, where Ministers are to travel around the country, informing the communities of how good the government is to rural Ireland, as just PR and pure political.
The people of rural Ireland won’t be taken in by ‘spin.’ That was Fine Gael’s big and insulting miscalculation during the last general election campaign, trying to make people believe that rural Ireland had benefitted as much from the economic uplift as urban areas had when they clearly had not; that is why they lost so many seats and had to settle for being a minority government, which is proving very unsatisfactory for the country.
The government will be rebuffed again when it next goes before the electorate unless it makes bigger and faster inroads into addressing the infrastructural deficits that are causing rural decline. Doing so will lead to more jobs being created, which will in turn keep schools and services viable in rural areas.
The Department of Community and Rural Development cannot obviously do all of this on its own, but the Minister needs to be pushing the other relevant government departments to do their bit for rural regeneration and, if they are not doing so, he needs to call them out and not be afraid to point the finger of blame.
This would earn Mr Ring a lot more kudos than all the political ‘spin’ that is going on at the moment could ever do because he would be seen as rising above parish pump politics and becoming more of the champion of rural Ireland as a whole that he needs to be perceived as.