Miriam Lord: Rolling moan gathers no Ross
Minister for Transport nowhere to be seen in Dáil despite 24-hour rail strike
Minister for Transport Shane Ross: greeted large group of constituents from the Men’s Shed in Ballinteer in the visitors’ bar in Leinster House. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins
“A rolling moan gathers no Ross.”
It’s a well known proverb in the transport world.
Roughly translated, it means that there is no point in bothering the Minister in charge of the sector with any of the difficult stuff concerning his job. He doesn’t like unpleasantness.
Instead, he would much rather be in his constituency attending to such important matters as tea mornings in Carrickmines, leaflet drops in Windy Arbour and photo opportunities on traffic islands in Stepaside.
Then there are the funny tweets which he must compose about his latest funny sporting bet with fellow Independent Alliance minister, Finian McGrath. Not forgetting the congratulatory tweets he must compose every time somebody from down the country wins a big sporting event which isn’t even tennis.
And roads. Roads have to be officially opened and a representative of the people must always be on hand to sit in the vintage car and look carefree for the photos.
And blazers. The handing over of funding cheques to plump men in blazers obscuring the new equipment in silent gymnasiums always must be officially recorded for posterity.
Nowhere to be seen
It’s no wonder that, when Dáil Éireann returned on Tuesday after a week-long Halloween break, Winston Churchtown was nowhere to be seen. He rarely gets a minute to make it into the chamber, such is his workload.
Although Opposition deputies felt that he might have changed the habit of his Government lifetime and made an extra special effort to make it in for the proceedings. What with the country in the throes of a one-day rail strike and railways being the Minister’s bag. Although he wasn’t too keen on putting himself about during the most recent bus strike either.
Not that anyone expects a Government Minister to directly intervene in an industrial dispute. There are mechanisms in place for dealing with these situations. However, this doesn’t prevent a Minister from being “proactive” when it comes to behind the scenes activity on the industrial relations landscape.
Yesterday, Opposition leaders told the Taoiseach that his Minister hasn’t been doing very much when it comes to the public transport area of his portfolio.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin reminded Leo Varadkar that, after the last bus strike, Ross promised to set up a high-level working group involving representatives of bodies such as the National Transport Authority, the transport providers and the unions to see what steps could be taken to prevent industrial relations upheaval in the future. The Minister’s department was to be part of this “stakeholders’ forum”.
It hasn’t been convened. Why not?
That’s not all.
A national rail review was commissioned a year ago, continued Micheál. “Submissions were sought from everyone. Political parties made submissions, as did various interested bodies. That has never seen the light of day. Where is the national rail review?”
Only one person could answer those questions, and it wasn’t Leo Varadkar.
The leader of Sinn Féin made the call, as Gaeilge.
“Ca bhfuil Onira Ross?” cried Gerry Adams.
Onira Ross? Who she? Shane’s sister?
Actually, Gerry was talking about “An tAire” Winston Churchtown, also known as “the Minister” Ross. No sign of the Minister in the Dáil and he wasn’t happy about it. Was Onira Ross even at that morning’s Cabinet meeting?
Leo swiftly replied, in English and in Irish.
Yes, Winston attended the Cabinet meeting and no, he didn’t know where he was now.
“Tá sé imithe anois, áfach” said the Taoiseach.
“He’s in North Korea” suggested Mattie McGrath.
“No, no,” insisted Leo. “He’s definitely in Baile Átha Cliath”.
The Irish Times can confirm this because shortly after the completion of Leaders’ Questions there was a definite sighting of Winston Churchtown in the visitors’ bar. He went there to greet a large group of constituents from the Men’s Shed in Ballinteer.
But for some strange reason, Gerry Adams didn’t hear when the Taoiseach told him. Because when his turn came to ask his supplementary question, he repeated himself (not, in fairness, a first for Dáil Éireann).
“I understand that the Cabinet met this morning,” persisted Adams, having remarked that the Taoiseach is “getting a reputation for having a hard edge” to his tongue. “Was Minister Ross at the Cabinet meeting? Did he mention this issue?”
Leo Varadkar, who cannot resist a weakened Shinner, went straight in, reputation first.
“The Deputy is perhaps gaining a reputation for just not listening, or perhaps not understanding what’s going on around him. Or perhaps the supplementary question was pre-written and he wasn’t able to depart from it. I said, in my reply, both in Irish and in English, that Minister Ross was at the meeting this morning and that he did brief us on the dispute.”
Strange that Gerry totally missed Leo’s bilingual reply.
Could he have been distracted by something. Something red and shiny and worn on the Taoiseach’s lapel?
He was wearing a small, red enamel poppy. No mention was made of it while Leo was in the chamber, but the emblem wasn’t really big enough to attract attention. But it’s sure to become a talking point in the days to come.
As we know, Leo Varadkar doesn’t do impulse.
Maybe a subsection of his new spin unit is responsible – the Pin Unit.
Meanwhile, back to Winston Churchtown, who was not in the chamber. Nor were his fellow members of The Pyongyang Gang – John Halligan and Finian McGrath. Probably busy arranging their peace mission to North Korea.
The Taoiseach, having blustered a little in response to Micheál Martin’s questions about what his Minister for Transport has yet to do, agreed “I think the stakeholders’ forum is a good idea . . . and it would also be useful to publish the rail review.”
Then he said: “I’ll speak to Minister Ross about that.”
That got a laugh.