In the second of three pieces by the Cork South West TDs on their year since the 2020 general election, Michael Collins (Non-Party) reflects on the past 12 months in Dáil Eireann
COVID-19 has changed all our lives. My political work has changed in a huge way, the weekly clinics throughout West Cork have been replaced with virtual meetings, phone calls with constituents and community voluntary organisations.
I was elected to the Covid Health Committee. We dealt with nursing homes, community hospitals, testing and tracing. As early as April 2020, I called for PCR testing in our airports to help curb the spread of Covid-19 and I called for local labs like Bandon Health Laboratories to be used for testing, both saving money for the State and providing jobs for West Cork and nationallym but the Government refused.
Brexit seem to come off this governments agenda during Covid, I spent months in the Dáil trying to force proper engagement by our Taoiseach and Ministers in the negotiations with Europe and the UK, which we can see did not happen, unlike our French and Spanish counterparts.
This will have devastating consequences for our Irish pelagic and inshore fishermen, coupled with difficulties in agriculture, forestry and nurseries who can’t source peat moss. As a member of the Dáil Agriculture and Marine Committee. these are some of my priorities.
My call for a standalone Minister for Marine to Micheál Martin, Leo Varadkar and Eamon Ryan during negotiations for government were point blank refused and now we see the cost it will have for our fishermen and our local communities.
This year I was elected vice-chairman of the Rural Independents Group and, while building the group nationally, I will not take my eye off the ball in West Cork.
After huge pressure in the Dáil from me, we have now a new Cross-Border Health Agreement in place. Also, another success, which has taken four years, is the free availability of medicinal cannabis to those in urgent need of the medication.
As an opposition TD, I will keep holding the government accountable for their inactions in West Cork. My call for a task force for job creation in West Cork was refused by this government and, in spite of promises, we still have no bypasses for Innishannon, no northern relief road or finishing of the southern relief road for Bandon, no bypass for Bantry and a failure to have passing bays on the N71 or R586 roads to help our long-suffering drivers and businesses in West Cork; basically no substantial investment in West Cork roads since the Skibbereen bypass opened in 2003.
I will continue my efforts to secure the future of Bantry General Hospital, as commitments have been reneged on to date, and fight relentlessly for thousands in West Cork on hospital waiting lists, and continue pressure on the government to offer vaccines to our home help workers and family carers.
I also aim to pressurise the government to better fund our tourism industry, which is decimated, and hold this government to task for not funding greenway projects like Cork to Kinsale, Innishannon to Bandon and greenway projects on the old railway lines throughout West Cork. I will continue to hold this and the last government to task for refusing funding for the Schull Harbour Marine project which had the potential of creating many jobs and which was dubiously overlooked for funds.
Broadband is deplorable right throughout West Cork for students, businesses and people working from home. This government needs to provide grant aid to wireless broadband operators who can give up to 70 megs to the home, until the National Broadband Plan is rolled out, which will take years.
The planning permission policy for rural Ireland will have to change to allow people to build in their own communities if they so wish.
This government needs to provide sufficient funding to Irish Water for proper water supply in Clonakilty, which is preventing the town from expansion, and funding for sewage schemes in a number of areas in West Cork.
Aid is required for businesses who have been decimated due to this pandemic and give proper supports to private companies like West Cork Connect who provide new public transport, thus saving the state by opening up bus services from Skibbereen, Bantry, Kinsale, Ballinhassig to Cork daily.
My aim is to work tirelessly for the people of West Cork usually seven days a week.