The Enda Kenny comeback
IN one of the best speeches he has made since becoming Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny struck a note-perfect pitch when he addressed the immigrant issue last week. If he needed any confirmation of just how effective that speech was, he got it within hours when his political rivals swung into criticism of the speech and its content.
For the first time, Fine Gael has got its teeth into an issue which is of profound significance to the people of this island, and which may yet prove more telling than anybody could have predicted.
Better still for Fine Gael – which seems to have been floundering in the dark for an issue it can call its own – Enda Kenny has pinned his colours to the mast. He has taken a stand and that’s what matters. A huge number will agree with him; a large minority will not. But that’s neither here nor there. What’s important for Fine Gael just now is that it is seen as espousing a cause, and that in turn will have significant results as election day looms.
Kenny left nobody in any doubt of his sympathies for our immigrant people. It would take a short memory and a hard heart for us not to welcome the stranger who is trying to make a better and more hopeful life for themselves and their families, just as we Irish had to do for generation after generation.
But, he pointed out, we are a Celtic and Christian people; we have our own culture, our own values, our own tradition. While immigrants have every right to live here free from discrimination, they also have a responsibility to integrate into our community, comply with our laws and respect our culture and traditions. People who want to come to this country to engage in serious crime must not be made welcome. Those who are convicted here of serious offences should be automatically deported after they serve their sentences.
This was uncompromising stuff. In a week which saw unchallenged claims that foreign workers are being used to undercut Irish jobs, it rang a bell for many. Enda Kenny was scratching the surface of an issue which, up to now, most public representatives preferred to ignore.
Maybe it’s because of the new streak of toughness that Fine Gael continues to hold its place as a credible engine of alternative Government. Fianna Fáil may appear to have all the aces, not least the spending bonanza announced in the National Development Plan, but nobody has written off the Fine Gael-Labour alliance just yet.
Having studied the form in all of the country’s constituencies in advance of the election, the political analyst John Drennan predicts a best possible scenario of 80 Dáil seats for Fine Gael, Labour and the Greens, which includes the maverick, Michael Lowry. That figure puts Enda Kenny within a short neck of becoming Taoiseach, and of Fine Gael being back in power after 25 years out in the cold.
Governments know only too well that it doesn’t take much for the wind to change direction. Albert Reynolds liked to remark that it was the small, unexpected, unpredictable trip-up that could cause the most electoral damage. Junior Minister Tony Killeen’s local tornado is just the type of thing which could take on a life of its own. Enda Kenny’s luck could change just in time to make the difference. If it is true that we make our own luck, then he has done more than his share at that task as well.
THE WONDER OF DÚN BRISTE
IT stands just 80 metres off the land at Downpatrick Head on the north Mayo coast, and it must rank as one of the most striking geological landmarks of the whole country. Dún Briste rises sheer out of the Atlantic waters, 50 metres high, its perfectly formed, stratified column culminating in a plateau of green.
Worth a visit at any time of the year, the famous sea-stack has mystified admirers of its imposing presence for centuries. Historian Noel O’Neill, ever a fount of knowledge on such matters, has two versions of the Dún Briste story. That from the annals of folklore tells of Geodruisge, an ogre, who lived on the spot where the stack now stands. He was an unpleasant character, regularly making life difficult for St Patrick, who prayed at the church on Downpatrick Head. The saint became so exasperated that he asked God to put some barrier of separation between himself and this tyrant. The following morning, the stack with the tyrant’s residence was found to be separated from the mainland. Geodruisge had no means of escape, and so he perished.
However, Noel O’Neill says that the more likely explanation is that given in the annals of Mac Firbis, which tells of the cutting off of the rock of Duross promontory by the sea, in the Barony of Tirawley, in 1393. Local lore tells that the people living there were rescued from the stack with the use of ships’ ropes.
It was to be another 600 years until a human foot was again placed on Dún Briste. A helicopter landed a number of people on the stack, including a film crew from RTÉ, whose documentary on the stack was later screened on nationwide television. Among the group were Dr Seamus Caulfield, his late father Pádraig, NT, and his late brother, Fr Declan, together with archaeologists, Martin Downes and Noel Dunne.
They camped there overnight and, on surveying the surface, found the remains of a medieval house, cultivation ridges, walls and a broken quern stone, used for grinding corn. Proof indeed of the Mac Firbis version. But no trace whatever of the malevolent Geodruisge.
SEEING THE LIGHT IN CASTLEBAR
THERE are few who could argue with the assertion of Castlebar town councillor Blackie Gavin that the county capital must rank as one of the “worst lit towns in the country”.
Time was when Castlebar could boast of having a town lighting system second to none. And then, for some obscure reason, some 20 years ago, it was decided to replace the standard system with a semi-decorative, candlepower arrangement which succeeded in turning the public thoroughfares into the black hole of Calcutta.
Duke Street and Shambles Street have since become caverns of darkness; the beacon-like ‘pilot lights’ which connected each street corner and intersection are no more; and Castlebar now finds itself a poor runner-up to a myriad of villages and hamlets which enjoy the full glare of traffic route lighting.
Blackie Gavin may as well be whistling at the moon if he thinks that the views of elected representatives are going to have any effect on the candlepower lighting of Castlebar streets. But the issue is not entirely beyond redemption.
Repeated claims that the town’s expensive CCTV system has turned out to be of little use, because the street lighting is so bad, have been endorsed by the Garda authorities. They say that the poor street lighting is a major problem in securing reliable evidence from the CCTV regarding wrongdoing and breaches of public order on the streets of Castlebar.
All of which points fairly strongly to an upgrade of the town lighting system and a long awaited restoration of a utility befitting an urban growth centre.
SPREADING THE MESSAGE FOR RNLI
TONY Hiney, area fund-raising manager of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, comes to Castlebar on Monday night next with the aim of setting up the fifth RNLI branch in the county.
The history of the RNLI in Mayo is a proud one, with rescue boats – and their voluntary crew – located in Achill and Belmullet, providing a courageous and unselfish service to those who get into difficulties on the ocean.
RNLI has branches in Ballina, Westport, Achill and Ballyglass/Belmullet, but it has been felt for some time that a need exists for a branch in Castlebar. This need stems, according to Tony Hiney, both from the large number of people from maritime areas now living in Castlebar and from the increasing number of inland dwellers taking to the sea for sport and relaxation.
It costs €14 million a year to run the RNLI in Ireland, all of it raised by voluntary subscription, since the service does not receive government funding. It is through branch membership that most of that income is generated; hence the need for strong, well-supported branches across the country.
The service offered by the RNLI has been highlighted in recent weeks with the tragic loss of lives off the south coast, but many people may not realise that the RNLI saves on average 22 people every day of the year.
Although entirely voluntary, RNLI crews have never failed to put to sea, regardless of conditions or their own safety, when the call comes. It is a level of dedication which has cost 35 crew members their lives in the service of others.
The Castlebar branch will be formed at a meeting at the Welcome Inn Hotel on Monday night next (8pm) and all are invited to come along and show their support for this courageous and commendable service.
‘WRONG WAY’ CORRIGAN REMEMBERED
IT is many years now since your scribe shared a school desk with a youth who, thanks to his family name, was consistently addressed by his teacher as ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan. Like most of his classmates, I am sure that the butt of the teacher’s humour was unaware at the time of the real story behind his unwelcome appellation.
Douglas Corrigan was born 100 years ago last week, and has gone down in aviation history as the incompetent – or, depending on your opinion, the highly devious – ‘Wrong Way’ Corrigan.
Born in Texas, he qualified as a pilot. Having worked on Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis, he let it be known that his ambition was to fly solo across the Atlantic. However, the American authorities had clamped down on such flights on the grounds that the risks involved were unacceptable.
In July 1938, Corrigan departed California to fly to New York on what was to be a return trip. Ten days later, he took off for the return trip to Los Angeles but, according to his own version, he misread his compass on take-off and, instead of turning west, headed east out over the Atlantic.
He blamed the weather for not being able to pick out any landmarks and, by the time he had discovered his ‘error’, it was too late to turn back. He journeyed on, finally touching down at Baldonnel after a flight of 28 hours.
The aviation authorities were convinced they had been duped by Corrigan who, they said, had really intended to fly the Atlantic all along. The man himself pleaded that he had brought nothing with him to hold up the allegations against him – no passport, no documentation, no map relating to the route to Ireland.
The now famous ‘Wrong Way’ was feted in Dublin and sailed back to the US for the traditional ticker tape welcome through the streets of New York. He later starred in the movie The Flying Irishman, before retiring to live quietly in California where he died in 1995.
THOSE ROADSIDE FACES
WITH election fever mounting, look out for some creative marketing from those who seek to impress the as yet uncommitted.
The National Roads Authority has been warning of the traffic hazards which can result from motorists being distracted by images of politicians smiling from billboards along the state road network.
And also, the NRA says, there is the question of such hoardings being structures which would, legally, be subject to planning permission.
One enterprising Fine Gael candidate in north Dublin has neatly side-stepped this difficulty by mounting his billboard on the side of a lorry which he then moves every few days from one part of his field in Balbriggan to another.
Dr James Reilly argues that he needs all the attention he can get. And, he says, there might be an election a lot sooner than you think.