Where Ring is king: Westport's politics
Politics in Westport can be summed up in three words: Ring is king.
Fine Gael returned an unprecedented four TDs, including Michael Ring, to the Mayo constituency in last year’s general election. Despite the fact that the quartet includes Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Ring remains the dominant force in his home town of Westport.
The Ringer, as he is known locally, is characteristically enthusiastic about the town’s naming as the best place to live in Ireland. “It’s fantastic for the town,” he says.
Asked what local politicians have contributed to making Westport the friendly, lively and almost litter-free place it is, Ring notes that Fine Gael holds more than half of the 31 seats on the county council, while Westport Town Council is also dominated by the party.
But he says councillors from all parties have always pulled together for the town. “One hundred per cent. I started on the town council in 1979, and the common good for Westport always did and always will come first,” he says.
If this sounds too good to be true, political opponents back up Ring’s view. Seán Staunton, who was a Fianna Fáil town councillor for 37 years, and is a former editor of the Mayo News, says the local authority views itself as a development agency. “With the town council, that has always been the case; that party politics were left outside the door and we worked together irrespective of what numbers people had,” Staunton says. “While we had our little spats, it worked. We saw ourselves as the main development agency for the town.”
Staunton plays down the impact of the Flynn family dynasty on Westport but says it was recognised that Pádraig Flynn had “delivered” for the county, and particularly the county town of Castlebar, when he was in office.
Staunton has high praise for his party colleague Dara Calleary, the only Fianna Fáil TD left in the constituency after Beverly Flynn’s decision not to stand in 2011, but acknowledges that Ring is a “good, hard worker”.
Promoted to be Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Ring was unperturbed when The Irish Times reported last December on the success of Mayo in attracting grant money. The department had announced more than €5 million in grants for projects in the county within six months. A Dublin Fianna Fáil councillor, Jim O’Callaghan, accused Ring and Kenny of “looking after their own backyard” instead of distributing limited resources evenly throughout the State.
Ring demanded an apology at the time, insisting his presence in the department had nothing to do with Mayo’s record in securing grants, but he is more sanguine about the matter this week. “I’ve a responsibility to the country, but I’ve a responsibility to the constituency as well,” he says.