The Cabinet sitting down for its first meeting after receiving seals of office from President Higgins. For now the Mid-West is without a senior minister in Varadkar’s government
I DON’T usually pay much heed to the Summer Solstice anymore, but it has come as a bit of a shock to me to realise that by the time you read this, the longest day of the year will be gone.
The days will be getting shorter and - perish the thought - we’ll be on the way back to Christmas. Summer will be over before we know it.
This, I know, is a depressing way to start a column on the sunniest day of the year so far, with a balmy midsummer’s day in the offing, but the politics – in which a week is a long time - is even more depressing. We’ve literally been rendered speechless in the Cabinet, and there hasn’t been a whisper of protest.
Our place in the sun is over – for now anyway - and the nearest thing to a senior minister to be found anywhere in the Mid-West as I write, apart from the two likely junior posts in Limerick and Clare, is Michael Lowry, who at least has been guaranteed access to the Cabinet. But we’re nothing if not generous and good-hearted here in Tipperary, and we’ll share him if you like.
Seriously though, how could Leo Varadkar have left the entire Mid-West without a voice at the Cabinet table, especially at a time when the goodies are about to be distributed again? Who is going to stand up for us now? Who is going to fight our cause and make sure that we’re not being short-changed? What’s going to happen to Shannon Airport, which was just getting on its feet again?
This dire situation is making me nostalgic for the past, when you could walk through a meadow up to your waist in grass and wild flowers on the Summer Solstice, with the re-assuring call of the cuckoo in the background and a State car around every turn on the road. For most of my career in journalism, we had at least two Ministers at a time in Limerick vying with each other for public affirmation. We even had two senior Ministers in the relatively small constituency of North Tipperary in one Dáil back in the good old days and, while they were fierce rivals at election time, it was good to know that, whatever about getting a favour done, someone always had our backs in times of crisis.
Now, while the country continues to recover from the recession, the fields are bare and stark from silage cuts, heat waves last just a couple of days, the summer is usually gone before we know it and the State car is as scarce as the cuckoo this year in the Mid-West. I haven’t met anyone who has heard him yet.
It’s all very well to say that the new Taoiseach, despite the inevitable Dublin preponderance of Ministries, has quite a good regional spread in his newly appointed Cabinet, or that Patrick O’Donovan is being confirmed in a junior Ministry this week, or that, in any case, the country is too small to be quibbling over territorial chieftaincies anymore. Brian Boru is dead, but Charlie Flanagan is less than an hour away from Limerick city in Laois, while Michael Creed in Cork is probably even closer. And the roads are good, not like in the old days. But it’s the backyard that’s the problem.
The past six years when Michael Noonan was Minister for Finance and the part of it when Jan O’Sullivan was Minister for Education, have left us in no doubt at all that having a Minister in the back yard beats the pump and a priest in the family any day. Not only did it give us status, respectability and confidence, but it brought us some very tangible benefits as well, in infrastructure and jobs. As well as all that we knew that no matter what skulduggery happened at the Cabinet table, Limerick would not be left in the lurch.
We’ll miss all that now unless, unless . . . .
Now I know that what I’m going to say next will raise the hackles of many good Limerick people, some of whom were once treasured friends. They’ll accuse me of being mischievous. But I spent nearly 30 happy years working in the city and county and I wouldn’t even make this suggestion if I didn’t have the best interests of Limerick at heart.
What I would suggest is this. Seeing that you have been left without a seat or a voice at the Cabinet table, you might consider making Michael Lowry, who, as I’ve already said, is now the nearest thing to a senior Minister in the region, an honorary Freeman of Limerick City. It may be only a symbolic gesture but the old Freedom of Limerick gave the holder the right to participate in the political and economic life of the city and he’d do wonders for the place.
It’s only a suggestion now, mind you, but it would guarantee you valuable access to the Cabinet. On second thoughts, forget it. We need him more in our own back yard at the moment, seeing that we don’t even have a single Government TD, not to talk of a Minister, junior or senior, in the whole amalgamated constituency of Tipperary.