Hysteria increases in Ballina

Speaker's Corner
Hysteria increases in Ballina

Áine Ryan

BALLINA oozes a certain haughty independence, a definitive detachment. Mayo’s northern capital has a palpable semblance of separateness. The Independent Republic of Ballina. Up yours. So what if we haven’t got a proper access road. So what if we are waiting for over a decade for an industrial estate. So bloody what if we are an unemployment blackspot. Aren’t we getting on with it, despite repeated Government neglect, despite being the county’s forgotten town.
My first assignment for The Mayo News in Ballina was to report on a Town Council meeting. It was last September. I parked alongside the River Moy and immediately managed to get lost. Not before being drawn to the river’’s busy bustle as it pranced and pirouetted towards the open Atlantic. Wow! What power, what unbridled energy, what inspiring beauty.
Back to the Town Councilmeeting. I could have been forgiven for assuming I had stumbled on a rehearsal for a recently-discovered Shakespearean play. Let’s call it The Battle of Ballina.
Each scene – oops! I mean item on the agenda – was suffused with melodramatic moments, pithy asides, deferential formalities. The only things missing were pregnant pauses, medieval costumes, and a prompter. One thing for sure, Ballina Town Councillors don’t need any prompting.
Take Mayor Mark Winters’ proposal that the constituency’s TD’s  be asked to make a presentation to the chamber before this year’’s General Election. Dr Jerry Cowley could be first, suggested An Méara. All I can say is, the audience, ie the Press, were relieved not to be called on to provide emergency resuscitation for some of the venerable elected members. One female councillor was as good as stricken with the veritable vapours at the suggestion of the Mulranny-based deputy even darkening the door of the chamber. Lucky there were smelling salts on standby.  
Surprisingly, the emergency services weren’t called to last week’s monthly meeting. In my brief experience, it proved particularly volcanic. The dramatis personae were discussing a proposal to develop a theatre, car park and amenity area, on Barrett Street.  There were accusations of ‘intimidation’, of ‘abuse of power’, of ‘political u-turns’. The large audience in the public gallery was transfixed by the poetry of WB Yeats, exhumed from his Drumcliff grave, to add dramatic gravitas to the protestations of ‘outrage’, ‘shock’, ‘moral rectitude’.
The sinister and murky plot involved ‘certain members’ of the Council being in cahoots with management to provide car parking space for the Ridgepool Hotel and not, as was being flagged, an amenity for the townspeople and a facility for the proposed 250-seat theatre.
Ironically, Dr Jerry Cowley was acknowledged, even welcomed to the chamber, by some of those same councillors who, four months earlier were almost willing to jump into the nearby River Moy rather than allow the Independent TD darken the door of the hallowed haven of local government. A political u-turn? A Damascene conversion? Alas, no. Nothing more than the fatuous verbiage that has become the acceptable hallmark of Irish political life.
As the General Election approaches, the new pretenders to the fiefdom of Ballina - Dara Calleary and Michelle Mulherin - will inevitably increase the hysteria of their pronouncements, playfully propelled by us media monsters.     
I’ve met Michelle Mulherin and Dara Calleary a few times for coffee and a chat. They are both bright, educated, sophisticated and even nice.
Unfortunately, their reciprocal verbal swipes smack more of school playground than the ideal values of a lower house of Parliament. One thing they both agree on,  though, is their passionate commitment to their home town. Dr Cowley also sings a chorus from that hymn sheet.
Why not, then, put their money where their mouths are and arrange a voting transfer pact. The Battle for Ballina has a much better ring to it than the Battle of Ballina.