Soured relations

Comment & Opinion

CORDIAL DAYS Leo Varadkar pictured in 2017 in the office of Michael Ring TD, whom he had dropped into to say hello after attending the funeral of the late Patsy Gill, mother in law-of-former Taoiseach John Bruton. Pic Conor McKeown

Ring’s omission again highlights western marginalisation

The overlooking of Mayo TD Michael Ring for a junior ministry promotion following the resignation of his party colleague Damien English led to Deputy Ring cutting loose.
On Friday last on Radio 1, the former Cabinet minister said the party had gone ‘too Dublin’ and, reflecting on his own time as Minister for Rural and Community Development, Mr Ring said he had ‘never put a foot wrong’ in his time as minister and said the party was ‘wrong’ to drop him.
He wasn’t alone in his views.
One unnamed Fine Gael TD told The Irish Independent that the appointment of Neale Richmond to fill English’s junior ministry role in the Department of Enterprise was an ‘incredible decision’, adding they were ‘completely shocked’ by the Taoiseach giving the ministry to a Dublin TD with little experience.
“It’s time a rural TD stood up now and started taking on the establishment, the Dublin brigade,” said Ring. He also pointed to his election results compared to some party colleagues who are in Cabinet.
“I brought in two seats (he and Alan Dillon) and some of the Cabinet ministers we have now could hardly get elected,” he said.

Rural representation
It is fair to say that relations between Michael Ring and Leo Varadkar have soured. Ring was a minister of state under Varadkar in the Department of Transport when Enda Kenny was Taoiseach and the Westport man served as minister in Varadkar’s first term as Taoiseach.
Whatever about his arguments about vote getting ability, his points on the geographical make-up of cabinet are worthy of scrutiny.
Ring’s strength in elections is incredible, thanks in no small part to his tireless constituency work. But being based in Mayo, where the voting share for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael has traditionally been amongst the strongest in the country, is an advantage compared to some of his Dublin brethren.
However, his point about the poor rural representation in Cabinet has merit. Clearly, there is no quota, nor should there be, for rural representation in Cabinet.
Too much focus on geographical spread will mean not enough focus on the quality of individual candidates.
Take Cork South Central for instance. Three of its four TDs are among the six top ranking ministers – Micheál Martin, Michael McGrath and Simon Coveney. All there on merit. The fourth TD bested them all in the last election – Sinn Féin’s Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire.  
No one can suggest that any of those three should not be in Cabinet because it is too many from one constituency.
Yet no one can dispute that the west is greatly under represented. Charlie McConalogue in Donegal is Minister for Agriculture while Norma Foley in Kerry is Minister for Education. They’re the only senior ministers along the western seaboard, while Galway’s Hildegarde Naughton is a super junior.

Neglect of the west
There would be less complaints from these parts about such under representation if a Dublin centric Cabinet was ensuring fairness and equity nationwide.
But 80 percent of senior ministers (12/15) are from Dublin or surrounds (apologies to any Wicklow or Meath readers) or Cork, and it shows.
The Northern and Western Region remains a region ‘in transition’ in European terms, the only Irish region so classified and what are the Government doing to address it?
The Western Arc, a potentially transport transformational arc from Cork to Belfast via Limerick, Galway, Sligo and Derry, was written off the EU Core TEN-T route by the stroke of Leo Varadkar’s pen in 2011.
Despite its return being promised in recent Programmes for Government, Dublin-centric Cabinets have dragged their heels continuously on it, showing their lack of concern for the region in the process.
There has been much talk by the current Government about restoring the Western Rail Corridor from Athenry to Claremorris, but talk is cheap, and there has been no meaningful action.
Indeed, the only sizeable infrastructural projects to come west has been two sections of the N5 – the Turlough to Castlebar road and the planned bypass of Frenchpark, Tulsk and Strokestown.
The forceful nature of Michael Ring was more responsible than the Government at large for the former and the road is so long overdue that no great credit should be afforded it.
Perhaps such single-mindedness are what have Michael Ring on the naughty step now.

Calleary conundrum
His constituency colleague Dara Calleary would never quite come out so strong as Deputy Ring, but he must be wondering where his political career lies.
It was incredible that, despite being Fianna Fáil Deputy Leader, Micheál Martin saw fit to only appoint him as Government Chief Whip in 2020 behind several inferior party colleagues. A short time later he was appointed to Minister for Agriculture after Barry Cowan resigned.
The Ballina man did not last long though – his attendance at the infamous golf gate gathering in Clifden in contravention of Covid-19 restrictions saw him hastily resign.
His swift resignation stood in stark contrast with the belligerent response of others, like then EU Commissioner Phil Hogan.
But Calleary has continued to suffer since for what was, as anyone who knows the man can attest,  an honest mistake rather than anything malicious.
He too remains on the naughty step, while someone like Leo Varadkar ascends to the role of Taoiseach again, despite being investigated by the DPP for leaking a confidential document to a friend. Double standards anyone?
Calleary stands on the sidelines for one moment of poor judgement yet party colleagues who have presided over a worsening of the housing and health crises remain in situ.
We can judge all these issues in isolation, but when you add them altogether, they amount to a very bad deal for the west. Plus ça change.