IT can hardly come as a surprise that the Shell to Sea campaign is about to embark down the electoral road as another string in its bow of winning hearts and minds.
The announcement that Mark Garavan (pictured) is to stand as an Independent candidate in this year’s Seanad election will certainly increase the spotlight on the Bellanaboy campaigners. Articulate, well briefed and persuasive, the Castlebar-born sociologist has proven to be a media trump card for the Shell to Sea campaign. A most able performer on radio or TV, he is widely seen as the fair-minded, reasonable face of protest.
A lecturer at GMIT, Mark Garavan’s credentials as a friend of the environment predate his association with the Corrib Gas pipeline controversy. A founder member of Mayo E-live (the environmental protection group based at GMIT), his commitment to the ideals of conservation of the natural heritage is well recognised.
His decision to go forward for election as a candidate on the NUI panel is an interesting one. As Fergal Quinn demonstrated in the past, good organisation and a methodical approach can yield rich dividends for those who seek the support of university graduates. There are six Seanad seats to be filled by the votes of graduates (three from NUI and three from Trinity College) in a joust which could easily be decided by whoever is most successful in getting the vote out in the first place.
With the coming general election predicted to be ‘The Year of the Greens’, Mark Garavan’s championing of green issues – apart from his association with the Corrib gas campaign – is certain to be of huge benefit to him. Issues like climate change and global warming, on which he has long held strong views, will provide him with a ready-made platform on which to base a campaign strategy to appeal to a broad audience.
Dr Garavan will also follow in a long family tradition of service to the public good in putting his name on the ballot paper. He is a direct descendant of James Daly, co-founder with Michael Davitt of the Land League, and often referred to as the forgotten man of Irish history.
In addition, both his father, retired Judge John Garavan, and his brother, Eoin, have served with distinction as members of the then Castlebar Urban District Council, representing Fine Gael.
The notion of public service is already part of Mark Garavan’s electoral armoury. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the Shell to Sea campaign will help sway the far flung voting register which comprises the NUI’s electoral college.
A HEALTH SERVICE IN DISARRAY
THE solid good sense of health service supremo, Gerry Robinson, who guested on the Late Late Show last week, must have had viewers all across the country applauding in their armchairs.
The highly regarded Irishman is tipped to be the one who might bring order and organisation to Britain’s ailing NHS. He managed, in less than 30 minutes, to get to the heart of what is wrong with our own, troubled runaway juggernaut.
There was no rocket science about the remedies which Robinson suggested to Pat Kenny. His central theme was that people who are brought up through public service ranks are not necessarily the best qualified to stand back and look objectively at where the system has broken down.
Much of what he had to say was mirrored a week later at the Impact health conference in Dublin, where people employed in the health service told of what a shambles the whole structure has become over the past few years.
Equally, it should be noted, it had been mirrored a month earlier by Castlebar businessman Oliver Kelleher who, in an open letter to Mary Harney, wrote despairingly of his experiences as an emergency patient waiting to be attended to at Mayo General Hospital. Again, his complaints were not directed at the front line staff whose task it was to keep the system going, but at the whole faulty organisational structure which – in spite of the untold millions thrown at it – makes the health system go from bad to worse.
One notable observation from Gerry Robinson was the prevailing culture which rules that hospital activity comes to an end at 5pm on a Friday evening and does not resume until the highly paid consultants come back on duty on Monday morning.
Surely, he said, it made no sense that highly expensive, high tech hospital equipment should lie idle for 16 hours out of 24 while the waiting list of patients gets ever longer. Why not a simple innovation to require hospital staff to work a round-the-clock rota basis, so that expensive diagnostic treatment equipment can be utilised to the fullest, 24-7, degree possible.
WHEN THE SHUTTERS GO UP
THE sad but inevitable news of shop and business closures in Kiltimagh and other smaller towns across the county is the spin-off from the huge attraction of Castlebar as a shopping magnet.
Small towns are finding it hard to keep pace with the dual challenge of Castlebar’s growing speed of retail attractions and a growing trend which sees shopping as a social event at weekends and late at night.
The difficulties of retaining retail business in small towns was signalled several years ago in Kiltimagh itself. The initiative known as CUT (Communities Under Threat), headed by local woman Brenda McNicholas, sought to keep the threat at bay.
That battle was eventually lost with the emerging dominance of Castlebar as a retail location to rival Galway or Sligo and with a catchment area that stretches across the county boundaries and into Roscommon, north Galway and Leitrim.
It is somewhat ironic that in a town as prosperous as Kiltimagh, with its booming hotel industry and one of the most successful IRD companies of all, the retail sector should be so hard hit by the trend to go shopping in Castlebar. There are many who would say that it is due more to the new image of the county town as the shopping centre of the west, rather than any particular financial savings to be made, that the small towns of Mayo are losing out so heavily.
SWINFORD’S GATEWAY TO SUCCESS
BUT not all is doom and gloom in rural Mayo, and the opening of the Gateway Hotel in Swinford is as solid an endorsement as one can get of commitment to town and community.
Four generations of the Kelly family have played their part in the growth and development of Swinford and the opening of the Gateway is the latest chapter in that remarkable story.
Its young general manger, Cathal Kelly, follows in the footsteps of his father, Charlie, and his father before him, Douglas Kelly, both of whom gave many years of service to Swinford as public representatives. Even before that, Andrew Kelly had set up a thriving general store which was a landmark of business in the area.
News of the expansion of transatlantic services via Knock Airport will have come as a welcome boost for the Gateway, which will have its eyes set on garnering some of that substantial business which is expected to flow into Mayo with the opening up of the American market.
It will not go unnoticed that the Gateway has already marked out its American kinship with two of our most famed exiles being commemorated in having lounges in the hotel named in their honour. The Flying Doctor Lounge is a permanent tribute to footballing legend, California-based Dr Pádraic Carney, while the Jack Feeney Lounge is a fitting reminder of that golden-voiced tenor who took the US by storm throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and who is warmly remembered to this day among our exiles across the American continent.
CAN FINE GAEL TAKE THREE?
FINE Gael’s new director of elections for Mayo, Michael Sloyan, will have his work cut out if he is to achieve his objective when the country goes to the polls in a couple of month’s time.
In a nutshell, Enda Kenny needs to secure three seats out of five in his native county if he wants a realistic chance of becoming Taoiseach. And, in a nutshell, it will take a masterclass in vote management for the party to meet that challenge.
Fine Gael’s problem is that, in Michael Ring, they have one of the best vote-winners in Ireland. He will be returned with a resounding tally of first preferences yet again. Enda Kenny, as party leader, will be given a huge endorsement by the people of Mayo as well. But the last thing he will want is a situation where he and Ring hoover up the huge bulk of fine Gael votes, leaving Michelle Mulherin and John O’Mahoney too far behind to make up the ground for a third seat.
Fine Gael is well capable of pulling in the 30,000-plus votes which, in theory, would be enough to capture three seats. They did it in 1997. But it is how that 30,000 falls between its four candidates which will determine whether three seats is a possibility or not. And that comes back to how willing are Ring and Kenny to shed votes, to concede actual geographical ground to Mulherin and O’Mahony, and to unequivocally advise their supporters to vote strategically this time round.
A crucial element in all of this is how well Fine Gael can recoup the huge vote loss it suffered between the general election of 1997 and the most recent outing in 2002. The party’s Mayo vote went from 30,158 to 23,748, a drop of 6,400. It was a loss mostly accounted for by the electoral debut of Dr Jerry Cowley, who shocked the established order by pulling in nearly 9,000 votes.
These are the votes and that is the support base which Fine Gael will be battling to win back this time. Cowley cut the ground from under his rivals right across the constituency in 2002 – most notably, as far as Fine Gael is concerned, in Ballina. In other words, winning back Ballina will be crucial to Fine Gael’s success. But that is easier said than done. Jerry Cowley is no slouch when it comes to the business of maintaining a high profile with the voters. He may no longer have the advantage of being the new face on the block, but his continued loyalty to the cause of Shell to Sea in particular will be repaid in full when the votes are counted.
Enda Kenny’s battle to become Mayo’s first ever Taoiseach will eventually be decided on a wider stage, but what happens in his own back yard will be the key to the campaign.
THE TENACITY OF JOHN WALKIN
WHEN it comes to tenacity, not to mention the subtle art of electioneering, it would be hard to find the match of Ballina’s Mr Angling, the redoubtable John Walkin.
The latter talent stood him in good stead last week when he was elected chairman of the North Western Regional Fisheries Board for the 13th year in succession. In the process, he became the longest serving Fisheries Board chairman in the whole country.
His first named quality – that of tenacity – will be sorely tested, however, if he is not to outlive the post he has been elected to. It is Government policy to abolish the regional fisheries boards and to replace them with a single national authority, a move which is opposed tooth and nail by John Walkin and his board colleagues.
The regional fisheries boards have served the country well since they were set up 30 years ago, he says, and local boards are best qualified to make the best decisions at local level.
Now back to full steam in the battle, he is sure to sound the rallying cry for a collective resistance by local angling boards to the diktats of the Government. It’s something which, in the run up to an election, the Fisheries Minister could well do without.