A year out from a general election, there could hardly be a more disastrous banana skin for Fine Gael than the revelations over the Ten-T European funding debacle. That the current Taoiseach, then Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar in 2011 saw fit to wipe out, with a stroke of the pen, every project for the west and northwest from now until 2030, is beyond belief.
That he has been allowed to get away with it is a question yet to be explained.
The anger is yet to come. For now, the breathtaking audacity of the Varadkar decision is only sinking in. And the reality is that, were it not for the tenacity of The Irish Times in its leveraging of Freedom of Information regulations, we would never have been any the wiser.
The Mayo News has since spelled out in recent issues, with admirable clarity, what Ten-T funding is all about; how Varadkar wiped an entire programme of transport projects for the west and northwest off the map; how a death sentence has been passed on rural Ireland by a centralised government whose commitment to the west has again been exposed as non-existent.
In the whole shameful saga, it is instructive to note that the only voice of protest at the time was that of Varadkar’s party colleague, Jim Higgins, MEP, who warned that the west would be cut off from funding until 2030 should the Minister for Transport be allowed to proceed with his death cull.
And no doubt he realised that, by the time 2030 would come round, the west’s population would be so decimated that there will be no need for road, rail or transport networks. (Ironically, lest we forget, Jim Higgins was poorly thanked for his watchfulness, losing his European Parliament seat in 2014.)
The only other dissenting voice was that of Michelle Mulherin, the most junior of the four Fine Gael TDs returned from Mayo on a tide of blue, and who sought without success to highlight the dangers of what was unfolding.
Official antipathy to the west is nothing new, but it has taken the Ten-T revelations to underscore in black and white just how little our region counts for in terms of national status.
We well know that Knock Airport would never have seen the light of day if the decision had been left to the Dublin commissariat. And for those in the Fianna Fáil glasshouse who might be minded to hurl some stones, it should be recalled that the BMW region was short changed to the extent of €3.6 billion in funding in the last National Development Plan – enough to complete the N5 and the N26 roads ten times over.
There have been feeble attempts by Fine Gael stalwarts to defend Varadkar and to explain that Ten-T funding was never such a big deal, after all. Such apologists would be well advised to stop digging their leader into an even bigger hole. The argument – tenable at first glance – that the projects were removed because the State did not have access to the required co-funding resources loses its credibility when the question is raised as to why the Government had no problem with funding all of the projects in the south and east.
There is still time to right the wrong; the horse has not yet bolted, or so we are led to believe. Fine Gael’s public representatives could do worse than to resolve to convince their leader of the error of his ways before they take to knocking on doors ahead of the coming local, general and European elections.