Miriam Lord: Enda’s double visions for rural Ireland

Amid gags about Big Tom and small farmers and fishermen, a bucolic plan is rolled out


“As we work towards a post-Brexit situation, we need to be able to have a vision for rural Ireland.”

Reassuring words from the Taoiseach yesterday which will have gladdened the hearts of hard-pressed rural dwellers everywhere. They can butter their parsnips with visions now. Enda Kenny stepped aboard his vision in Longford on Monday when he launched the Government’s action plan for rural development.

Heather Humphreys, Minister for Arts, Heritage Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Hamlets (AHRRGH!) will be in charge. Opposition deputies representing rural areas are not convinced this new plan will do much to improve the lot of their constituents. Noted horny-handed son of the soil Gerry Adams dismissed the initiative as “a rehash . . . a compilation of previous plans, schemes and programmes”. Or a case of double vision. “You’re being very hard, Deputy Adams” sniffed Enda. “It is not a rehash.”

There was a rustle in the rural Independents undergrowth. Mattie McGrath blinked, sniffed the air and sat up. “Yes, it is,” he shouted.

The Taoiseach chose to ignore him, pointing instead to his trusty woman in AHRRGH! “For the first time ever, the first senior Minister for Rural Affairs is here beside me,” he cried, leaning back and gazing in admiration at Heather, his vision in rural regeneration.

Enda remarked that Adams had been one of many people demanding a senior minister be appointed in this area. “You’ve got her and she’s doing a really good job and she’ll see that it’s implemented.” Humphreys looked mortified. “Get her out on the ground!” roared Mattie, who later gave his thoughts on the Taoiseach and his Minister’s visit to Ballymahon.

Four roads

“‘Twas like Big Tom, you were talking about the four roads going everywhere and you were going to Edgeworthtown, you were going to Cavan, and you were going to ‘Blaney and every place else . . . Roscommon as well.

“You were going in smart cars, if you wouldn’t mind. They were going to be driverless I think, by the way I was listening to you.”

But that didn’t make the regeneration plan – “a talking shop” – any better. “€20 million per year for three years wouldn’t buy postage stamps for the applications.” “Minister Humphreys needs to get out and get the wellies on; get out in the rural communities and see what’s going on. Not reports and speeches and announcements like smart cars going four roads to Ballymahon.”

The Taoiseach said he was happy to hear mention of Big Tom, “the finest son of Castleblaney”, and said Heather would now give him the latest detail “without singing Four Roads to Glenamaddy.” She began to outline her “cross-government” approach to regenerating rural Ireland.

“Give her the money” bellowed Mattie. “Listen carefully” retorted Enda. “This is a bottom-up approach,” declared Heather. “Paint the windows” said Mattie. “A few windows” added Brendan Howlin, for no apparent reason. The Minister for AHRRGH! began smothering McGrath with detail. “Stop, stop, stop!” he cried. But she hit him with more planks from the Government’s rural vision. “I’m sorry I asked at all,” bleated McGrath, a beaten man. Heather left him with a parting shot. “Read the plan.”

Devil in the detail

Next from the Rural Independents Group was Fianna Fáil’s Michael Collins, who is from Goleen in west Cork. He wasn’t happy with the Government’s work on the country front either. He made an interesting point about the rural social scheme, which allows small farmers and part-time fishermen to supplement their income by working on community projects. The rural Independents were delighted when the Government delivered 500 extra part-time jobs under the scheme for low-income rural workers. “But it looks like the divil’s in the detail.”

He told the Dáil that when the jobs were allocated last Friday, Cork – the largest county in Ireland with the second-largest population, ended up with just 39 out of the 500. Could Enda tell him how did Cork, with a population of over half a million, was only awarded 39 jobs when Mayo, with a population of 130,000, ended up with 79?” A chorus of disapproval, aimed firmly at the Taoiseach, rose from the opposition benches. “Ooooh!”

Fianna Fáil’s Eugene Murphy supplied Collins with a pithy explanation.

“The boss” he said, looking across at Enda, a proud son of Mayo. Farmers and fishermen are struggling all over west Cork, continued Collins. In his area, from Macroom right down to Bandon and out to Castletownbere and Mizen Head, only 11 workers had secured work under the scheme. How can that be?

Urban scale

“They are great people in a great area down there in west Cork” plamassed Enda, before nominating Leo Varadkar, his Minister for Social Protection, to give the reply. “He’s not from Mayo,” harrumphed ever-vigilant Mattie. Yes, agreed Leo, Cork has a bigger population than Mayo. But then, Dublin’s population is bigger again, and “I allocated no additional places to the rural social scheme in Dublin.”

“There are no farmers or fishermen in Dublin” protested Micheal Collins. “That’s why they got none,” piped up Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed.

The explanation caused consternation among the rural Independents, who thought Varadkar was being flippant. Leo, flippant? Never. He went on to sow confusion among the townies listening in. The allocation of jobs is not based on population. The scheme is only open to pharmacists and physicists. Who knew there were so many of them suffering in rural Ireland? We checked afterwards with a rural-based TD who told us the Minister for Social Protection was referring to people availing of “farm assist” and “fish assist” allowances. And the biggest proportion of them reside along the west coast, it seems. Although Michael Collins would say west Cork has an equally pressing claim. His predecessor and fellow Goleen man, PJ Sheehan, used to call his part of the country “the land of bogs, briars, bachelors and bullocks.” But no Taoiseach.