The conclusion to the 2012 All Ireland SFC and MFC were, in hindsight, very special times for the occupant of this seat. Most obviously owing to Meath being involved in the concluding stages of the Minor. A Meath team managed by Andy McEntee and with Seamus Lavin, Shane McEntee and Jason Daly aboard.
The view has always been in this corner that the particular buch of young Royals were unfortunate to come up against the best combination Dublin had at that grade since a group including Paul Clarke and my good friend Sean Barry lifted the Tom Markham Cup in 1984.
Though defeat was ultimately their lot on the couple of occasions they encountered Dessie Farrell’s charges, the journey they enabled this follower to undertake, literally, that summer left memories which are now eternally treasured. For heartbreaking poignant reasons. As some of you will undoubtedly know, when wheelchair tickets are issued for most public events will be accompanied by a ‘Helper’ equivalent.
With Donegal taking on Cork in the senior encounter after Meath had defeated Mayo in the U-18 clash, as it was then, there was only one man I wanted to accompany me on the day in question, my wingman from Ardara – the late, lamented and desperately missed Paddy Gallagher. Now, to the cause of much hillarity and light hearted jibing between us, he somehow managed to obtain a Premium Level stub for the Final. Which meant that I could bring me brother Des with me on my ticket.
After Meath coming up short against that exceptional Dublin tean, and early goals from Michael Murphy and Colm McFadden rendering the senior match over as a contest before it had begun in earnest, my most prized yet upsetting recollection of the day was actually a happening before a ball was thrown in at all.
Namely, meeting the late Shane McEntee TD on the train journey in and sharing his company all the way down Clonliffe Road before we parted – with his usual vice-like handshake and hug that was as uplifting as it was genuine. Never in a billion years did I think it would be the last time our paths would cross.
Both of us knew where the other stood with regard to politics. On the other side of the wire as it were. But, and this was something that was always emphasised between us, our friendship could be traced back to long before he entered politics or I had a clue about them. And, essentially, party politics only amount to differing opinions on how to achieve the same objectives. Nobody enters politics to make any situation worse.
Shane’s passing left a huge void. Most obviously, first and foremost for his family. Most of whom I’ve been blessed to know all my life. Ironically, his daughter Helen is one of the few branches of the clan I’ve still to meet. Hopefully that imbalance will be addressed sooner rather than later.
His untimely leaving us was also a huge blow to the people of Meath, to politics and to Irish agriculture as well. GAA and farming were among the many passions we shared and although we may have had our colours nailed to different masts politically, it spoke volumes for the man he was that he was admired and respected across the political spectrum.
At the time of his death, he was Junior Minister in the Department Of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and it is my absolute belief that, had he taken up the senior role in Agriculture House, he would’ve been the finest holder of that office since the late Joe Walsh. Lord knows, he would’ve been immeasurably better than the individual most recently replaced.
However, even after outlining all of the above, it was a very personal tale of cross-party co-operation that prompted what you are reading. In March 2011, I’d been waiting just shy of a year for an upgrade of my wheelchair (Yes I am aware people have waited much longer for assistance from the HSE, my own experiences are simply relayed here as a means of conveying a point) but what is known is that it was Shane and Fianna Fail’s Thomas Byrne working together that eventually got the job done.
I remember when John Bruton became Taoiseach at the back end of 1995 being extremely tempted to go to that side of the fence. After all, the leader of the country being a local was assumed to be a very big deal. However, despite testing the water, no encouragement was ever forthcoming. Whereas, in contrast, having almost ended up engaging with those in the local Fianna Fail Cumman by accident, it was, as television artist the late Bob Ross would’ve said, a happy accident.
Of course, it helped in no small way that family leanings would have traditionally and very strongly been in the green corner. Which probably explains why one was taken very much under the wing of the local organisation so quickly. Yet, many of my closest friends and confidants would definitely be of the other persuasion.
To be honest, even after having read a biography of Michael Collins given to me by the late Aidan Ward – whose Godfather was General Sean Mac Eoin – the furor about Civil War politics – as it has fashionably been titled – was never really understood or bought into. As stated earlier, to me, a case of differing opinions on how to do the same thing.
BURYING THE HATCHET
So, the possibility of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael eventually working together was not the anathema in this corner it most certainly would be to some. Particularly to those of certain vintage. However, such entrenched statuses would be wholly understood on both sides. The following is without question one of the most overused cliches in political discourse, and other arenas too – but in this case their burying of the hatchet genuinely is in the national interest.
For two reasons. Firstly at a time of national and indeed worldwide crisis, the country needed a stable Government. To be fair to Varadkar’s previous administration, they did a damn better job than some of the so-called superpowers in the world. Did they make mistakes? Yes, but, as much as the measures they instigated caused frustration and upset, they surely saved a lot of lives too. Do I have my reservations about the arrangement? Absolutely. Though not to the point where it wouldn’t even be given a chance to prove itself.
The second reason why it was imperative the former rivals took the chance and/or were given it to form a coalition was that – despite what hysteric, reactionary facets of society would have you believe – there was no viable alternative administration available. Sinn Fein did indeed garner the largest percentage of the vote but owing to the way in which in electoral system works, percentage of the vote doesn’t always translate into seats.
Thus, Mary Lou McDonald’s party weren’t in a position to form a government. Moreover, it surely says enough that none of the other parties were willing to take the plunge and go into government with them. Which takes me nicely to my next point – people prattling on about “Not the Government we voted for”.
Balderdash. No ballot cast is for a Government. Rather, preferences are affixed to individuals, or, at very most, parties. Thereafter, it is in the gift of those elected to at least attempt to negotiate a workable Programme For Government. Which, in this case though protracted, those involved appear to have achieved. What the naysayers would have you believe would be akin to appointing a manager to a football team and then telling them what players they could pick.
It may not quite be a repeat of the Rainbow Coalition between Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left – as they were then dubbed, having spawned from Sinn Fein/The Workers’ Party and then simply the latter moniker in past lives – more a case of the forty shades of green, with a splash of blue. Of which none of those employing wild and whirling words from the other side could or surely would be envious of what those at the wheel face into. Now read on…
No secret will be made of the fact that I’d be extremely wary about doing business with the Greens again. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. Firstly as mass taxation seems to be the staple diet of all their policies and secondly – and more importantly in this case – it appears they believe farming to be the root of all evil. An astounding position for them to adopt given what they should be promoting.
Undoubtedly the most galling prospect now looming on the horizon is a Carbon Tax which will surely be atop Ryan’s fanciful wish list. Which means a tax on carbon emissions. These can stem from the burning of fossil fuels, fumes from vehicles and, yes, bovines answering the call of nature. However, to go by the narrative being peddled in certain quarters, they may as well just have called it a Cattle Tax.
Equally as disconcerting, mind you, is the reality that, while pontificating to the nation about carbon emissions, pollution, cycling lanes, greenways and the like, the Leader of the Greens was caught red-handed driving a big diesel-drinking seven-seater jeep into Leinster House not so long ago. A clear case of ‘Do as I say, not as I do’.
The preferred weapon of mass destruction for the implementation of this counter-productive and unnecessary tax appears to be the scaling back and/or total extinction of the national suckler herd. Such idiocy would not only lead to mass unemployment in farming itself but would also decimate an agri-food business sector that is the envy of a good portion of the world.
Our grass-fed beef systems are globally renowned. And, thanks to the work done by the likes of Bord Bia via the Quality Assurance Scheme, Origin Green and other initiatives, sought-after in a high percentage of the big round ball. Consider that, our bull beef is, or at least was, deemed a delicacy in Italy. Until a change of Government meant a change of policy regarding beef production in the Azzuri state.
Factor in, also, that the meat from cull cows goes to McDonald’s for burger production and it affords a fair indication of the respected presence in global food production Ireland commands. That’s without even mentioning what the Kerrygold brand has done for the profile of Irish produce courtesy of butter and cheese et al. Or the leading position held in the making of infant formula and, more recently, the use of whey in energy supplements turned to by those in rugby and various other sports.
Tampering with systems which have delivered so bountifully would surely amount to economic self destruction. As it is, the abolition of milk quotas have propagated a massive expansion in dairy production as a lot of farmers abandon suckler and beef production. This in itself has germinated a two-pronged problem.
On one hand, oversupply in the market will, naturally, cause a depressing of prices. Such a scenario would be drastic enough on its own – especially with prices currently hovering around the 30c/litre mark – but, add to the potentially poisonous mix that the exodus from suckler beef production has led to a nonsensical distortion of prices in both weanlings and store cattle and the very viability of the beef sector becomes tenuous at best.
I would love nothing more than to be able to say it was merely the untenable spike in the price of the raw material which forced operations at home to go on hiatus. Or even Corona. Alas, there were a multiplicity of other deciding factors outside of my control which brought about the closing of the gate on farming on yours truly.
A lifetime’s dream and ambition which had comforted and sustained me for the last seven years gone with the flick of a pen.
There’s no doubt that it would’ve been extremely difficult to buy stock this year given the crazy inflation currently at play with cattle prices. Thus, even though it absolutely broke my heart letting some of the trappings of being a farmer go, seeing them lying idle in the yard gathering dust and rest would’ve been infinitely more sinking.
What can be said, with every droplet of blood flowing through my veins that my farming life has not and will never be given up on. Mind you, while my situation will be determined by a unique set of circumstances, it’s not entering into the realms of fantasy to believe that many others may at least be tempted to exit stage.
Avoiding what has become the perfect storm of unsustainable mart prices and factory prices on the floor. Farmers need strong representation, from within the organisations whose function it is to do exactly that. Also, however from Government and in Europe.
I will admit to being surprised and disappointed that Donegal’s Charlie McConologue wasn’t given the Agriculture portfolio in the new Government. He had been a competent and respectef shadow to Minister Creed at a time when farmers needed a strong bstsmsn at the stumps more than at any juncture since the late Joe Walsh guided the nation through the Foot And Mouth outbreak of 2001.
Having said all of the above, I will say I was delighted to see Barry Cowen get a ministerial post. And, for very personal reasons, that it would be Agriculture is even more special. Though I’ve never met the Clara man, yet, I am and will always be very proud to call his brother a friend. There is, after all, more to life than politics. Much more.
Where there are winners, there are always losers. Again, speaking from a personal perspective, it was surprising and indeed very disappointing that Thomas Byrne wasn’t given the Education portfolio. Apart from the fact he had proven himself an efficient spokesperson on same, Thomas was the one more often than not who went into the trenches after the Party had been decimated by the self inflicted electoral disaster of 2011.
At this point, it will be openly admitted that I wouldn’t be Micheal Martin’s biggest fan. In a political sense. Purely because I think he can be too nice, some of the time anyway, for the rough and tumble of top level politics. It can, as is known only too well from personal experience – albeit on the fringes – be a dirty business.
Away from politics, one is forever mindful of the tragedy which has befallen Micheal and his family over the years and the strength and dignity he has shown in the face of it all. He will need every bit of that now, and then some. With realised ambition comes responsibility. Interesting and challenging times ahead.