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Playing politics

On the Edge

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

SO, is it a waste of time for Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring and former rural affairs minister Éamon Ó Cuív to be sparring over the amount of money each of them failed to spend on rural Ireland?
Sounds more like the kind of spat that children have in school playgrounds. Come to think of it, the entire amount unspent by both ministers could have upgraded lots of dodgy rural school playgrounds around the country.
Éamon Ó Cuív served eight years in charge of the Rural Affairs ministry: the Department of Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs. To be fair to Michael Ring he has only been in the department since last June, which means half the year had almost past when he took over its budget. One could argue that Ó Cuív has a brass-neck to be calling out Ring for failing to spend €19 million of his allocated €163 million budget for 2017. Not one to shy away from confrontation, Michael Ring bit back, opining it had ‘not escaped his attention that when Deputy Ó Cuív was Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, he handed back €35 million from his Department to the Exchequer in 2008. In 2010, his final year in the job, another €38 million was handed back’.
A moot point, methinks.
Unfortunately, we all know and have had experience of the slowness of the wheels of bureaucracy. A minister cannot just write a blank cheque willy nilly. (Well, not anymore.) There are processes and procedures to be followed. These procedures ensure transparency.
In defending his record on spending, Michael Ring argued in recent weeks that: “Having been assigned to this newly created Government Department last June, halfway through the financial year, I have done my utmost to ensure that as much of our 2017 budget as possible was allocated. Éamon Ó Cuív knows this as well as anyone but for some reason he has decided to play politics with the issue of funding for rural development.”
Spending efficiencies
BUT that is what politicians do, isn’t it? Play politics. It is a game. And it is the job of Ó Cuív while on the Opposition benches to hold the Government to account. We all know Michael Ring wouldn’t be holding back himself if he was on the other side of the chamber.
Interestingly, Ó Cuív argued that ‘if it wasn’t for the late approval for the Local Improvement Scheme, which I had been requesting, the underspend would have been much more significant’. Well done, Young Dev.
Realistically though and from a dispassionate perspective, are they not both doing their jobs?
One interesting observation made by Minister Ring is worth highlighting and should be addressed regarding local authorities taking their fingers out.
He said: “I am determined to ensure that all of the money allocated to my Department is put to good use in communities around the country. A significant issue I have faced is the delay in local authorities spending money allocated to them by my Department for local projects. In order to address this issue, I met with the County and City Management Association (CCMA) [recently] and very clearly conveyed to them the need to deliver local projects without undue delay.”
Well, wouldn’t you think that cash-strapped local authorities would be only too happy to spend monies allocated to them by central government. Moreover, Ring points out that some projects – for example, greenways and cycleways – can take up to two years to complete and therefore may not be completed during the allocated funding period. Ring says this has been addressed somewhat regarding the efficiency of the Leader grant process.
Being the practical, hands-on minister that he is, Ring also noted: “I am determined that in 2018, my first full year in the Department, there will be no underspend. Politicians from all backgrounds need to get behind the wheel when it comes to supporting rural communities. I would urge Deputy Ó Cuív to bring his significant experience to bear in supporting rural communities rather than making hypocritical and politically motivated attacks.”
If they were having a game of tennis, it would be advantage Ring. As if butter wouldn’t melt in the minister’s mouth.

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