AS one of the so-called ‘Taoiseach’s 11’, Senator Timmy Dooley said he is delighted to return to the upper house, where he pledged to leverage his close contacts at the cabinet table in the best interests of Clare.
The Mountshannon native denied that the beard he sported during lockdown was symbolic of his stint in the political wilderness, after two two unsuccessful election campaigns, one for the Dáil and the other for the Seanad. A fund-raising shave raised over €2,000 for Sláinte an Chláir and sharpened his image for a return to Leinster House.
The former Fianna Fáil TD is intimately familiar with the corridors of power, and his senator’s office is in close proximity to some of those who will be sitting at the cabinet table. “My close colleagues Micheal McGrath and Darragh O’Brien have two powerful portfolios,” he said. “I was in Ógra Fianna Fáil with Norma Foley 30 years ago. I won’t be slow to use my contacts.”
The lack of cabinet positions for TDs from the West and Midwest is something that he won’t be wasting too much time thinking about. “It would be great if we had a senior minister from Clare,” he acknowledged, “but that won’t deter me from fighting our corner. It’s a bit of a myth that a minister can do something disproportionately positive for their own constituency. The potential has to be there in the first place. It’s not possible to just magic up a factory for Kilrush or Kilkee, or for Tulla or Scariff. Ministers can’t just tell companies where to open. What we need to do is look at our assets and work to make the most of those and face up to the challenges ahead.”
Being honest about the difficulties facing the Clare economy, particularly those created by Covid-19, is something Senator Dooley believes is essential to steering a course to recovery. “I have already been speaking to the new Transport Minister Eamon Ryan about Moneypoint and about Shannon Airport. I served on the climate change committee with him and one thing we both realised was the potential of off-shore wind energy. The obvious place to develop that is in West Clare. I have always accepted Moneypoint wouldn’t last beyond 2025, so replacement jobs are key and there’s a lot of jobs potential in off-shore wind. There are private companies looking to the Atlantic, not to just to serve Ireland, but to serve Europe.”
In relation to Shannon Airport, the separation from the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) is something which will not serve the facility in good stead, Senator Dooley feels. “I was opposed to the separation from the DAA. That doesn’t help in the current crisis. People are just not flying and Shannon will have significant debt this year. That’s something the government will have to underwrite. The State can borrow for stimulus initiatives and to support long-term viable companies. Shannon might not be viable right now, but it must be kept on ice for the future beyond Covid-19. There is a hard battle ahead.”
As for the stability of the unprecedented coalition, which many tout as consigning Civil War politics to history, Senator Dooley said he is hopeful it will last. “The real challenges will come,” he acknowledged, “when choices have to be made about what items of the Programme for Government take priority and when it comes to making the real tough choices ahead. I was around for the Budgets from 2009 to 2011 and you need sure-footedness in these situations to do what is right for the country.”
For some within Fianna Fáil, concerns continue that the coalition poses a serious threat to its very existence, but Senator Dooley argues that diverging opinions are a sign of a democratic party structure. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are members who voted against the Programme,” he said. “Its a democratic organisation and members have had their say. Some of my closest friends voted against it and other voted in favour, but reluctantly. The challenge now for all office holders is to get out and work hard and deliver and get the economy moving again.”