Like the Minister of Transport, Noel Dempsey, I have been abroad where I escaped the terrible weather in Ireland last week. But, unlike Mr Dempsey, they are not going to blame me for the snow and ice which spread a white blanket over most of the country since Christmas.
I cannot understand why so many people were calling on Dempsey to cut short his holiday in Malta or wherever he was and dig everyone out of the snow. The same people had been telling us that he was useless. Surely they would have preferred it if Noel Dempsey had purchased a one-way ticket to Valletta, never to return to Ireland again.
But all this clamour from the press and the opposition to have Noel Dempsey show his face here was only geared towards one object and that was to further embarrass an already beleaguered government and to sell newspapers. They didn’t really want him home. That would have deprived them of a good complaint and a fair yarn at a time when news is scarce and papers are not selling that many copies.
But Dempsey was going to be damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. Taoiseach Brian Cowen was damned for visiting flooded areas last November and Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith was damned for not visiting.
I remember the late Michael O’Leary, who was Minister for the Environment at the time, was damned because he was abroad when we had a major snowstorm in Dublin in January, 1982. The fact that the then Taoiseach, Dr Garret FitzGerald, was at home at the time went unnoticed. And when people in Dublin blamed the corporation for not clearing the footpaths outside their homes, a former Fine Gael Minister for Finance, Richie Ryan wondered in public why able-bodied people were unable to clean the snow from in front of their own homes.
The wanted the Corpo to do it for them.
There was really no need for Noel Dempsey to cut his holidays short. In this time of modern technology and communications he could see from abroad – just as I could – what exactly was happening at home. As he said himself on his return, he could not think of one thing that could have been done if he was in the country that had not been done.
As it happened, the Minister for the Environment John Gormley was at home. But if it happened that Gormley was away and Dempsey was at home the clamour would be to get Gormley home and ignore Dempsey.
But, as I have said so often in this column before, that’s politics for you and should not be taken seriously. The issue had nothing to do with clearing the snow and ice off the roads and footpaths but everything to do with putting another nail in the Government’s coffin.
Same with Batt O’Keeffe, our much-maligned Minister for Education. Batt waved his magic wand in the height of the blizzard last Friday and hey presto! all the schools in the country were closed for the best part of a week. For once we were being treated with a display of government instant action.
Batt could have dithered and left the matter to individual schools. But that would have brought the whole country down on his head once again. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and do something that every government minister is accused of being incapable of doing: taking action.
But what happens? The opposition and the press come down on top of him like a ton of ice. But they waited until the thaw was in to do so. When Batt O’Keeffe ordered the schools closed everyone thought the country was in for a long spell of dangerous ice and snow on roads and paths. He could not have known that the thaw was going to come so quickly in Dublin.
There are, of course, plenty of examples of government inaction, some of them quite understandable.
One of them is the delay in holding the by-election in Donegal to fill the vacancy created by the election of Pat “the Cope” Gallagher to the European Parliament last June. I heard the Government chief whip, Pat Carey, explain on the radio during the week that there was no urgent need to hold the election; that Donegal was still well represented in the Dáil and that Pat the Cope would still be looking after their interests.
I cannot argue with that. But what I would have liked from the Government chief whip would have been a little bit of honesty. I do not believe a little dose of honesty would have done the Government any harm. I would have liked if he said: “the Government are slow to hold this by-election because we fear we might lose it at a time when we need every support we can get in the Dail”. We all know that’s why the by-election has not been called before now. We all know that if Fianna Fáil were confident of holding the seat the by-election would have been held long ago.
Pat Carey should have acknowledged what we are all aware of. I don’t think that admission would have done the Government a blind bit of harm. As a matter of fact, it might do them good because for once people might see them telling the truth rather than mouthing the usual bullshit that has browned people off for the last number of years.
But again that’s politics for you.