Congratulations to Dominant Ross last week for another breathtaking performance in his pursuit of gaffes. For 2½ years, the Minister for Transport (eek!), Tourism (the incessant hotel-building is going well anyway), and Sport (go team!) has developed his own unique art form out of the three Ps of his ministry: posturing, populism, and, please God not again.
Ross is the type of Minister that makes you wonder what qualifications are needed to lead a department.
A successful politician’s main profession is the job of getting elected. The process by which politicians then become Ministers is a mysterious one. Little credence appears to be given to one’s familiarity, never mind expertise, with a field.
Rarely are a new Minister’s qualifications forensically outlined. There is no clear interview process. Appointments feel strategic; politically, geographically, designed to cover bases or appease, or perhaps it is someone’s “turn”, or they did a favour and now win a prize.
This dysfunctional process of appointing and anointing people who are in charge of large, important aspects of our country and Government, is how we end up with the likes of the Minister Shane Ross, whose primary interest in the field of transport, for example, is that of bandwagons.
It is remarkable that as a Minister who is meant to serve the country, Ross retreats again and again to the comforts of his constituency
Last week there were two more gaffes. First there was the press release from Ross congratulating “Dominant Puspure” rather than Sanita Puspure, a display of ignorance potentially gleaned from an RTÉ headline that referred to the athlete as “dominant”.
This was followed by a Del Boy-meets-Dougal performance at a residents’ committee meeting in his constituency where he said he had nothing to do with the BusConnects plan and no responsibility for the National Transport Authority (NTA), and also “don’t mind this map”, regarding the proposed route map for the plan.
The NTA is an agency that implements the Department of Transport’s policy. But Ross, one of the most parochial politicians around (and that’s saying something), seems only to want to be accountable for quick fixes and the pursuit of local popularity.
While we may be used to Ross’s gaffes, and therefore hold him to lower standards than other politicians we expect more from, it is remarkable that as a Minister who is meant to serve the country, Ross retreats again and again to the comforts of his constituency. And he does so shamelessly.
Ross said he would be making a submission on behalf of people in his constituency who are “greatly inconvenienced” by the BusConnects plan.
“Don’t ask me for details,” Ross said on Seán O’Rourke’s RTÉ radio programme when it comes to Government policy, “I don’t micro-manage”.
Yeah, details, whatever! Who needs them?
Some of Ross’s gaffes are seemingly harmless, although they obviously indicate a broader cluelessness. There’s his consistent foolishness in the arena of sport; the “Dominant” debacle, and before that, the occasion where he tweeted a photo of himself with Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney at the men’s rugby team’s homecoming after winning the Six Nations earlier this year, with the caption, “Congratulations and welcome home this evening to superstars Johnny Sexton and Dave Kearney”.
He also congratulated the performance of “Thomas Barry” in the 400m hurdles at the 2016 Rio Olympics (he meant Thomas Barr).
Ross plonked himself front and centre when the Irish women’s hockey team returned from the World Cup final, announcing some funding, another PR stunt. Before that, there was the Olympic Council of Ireland ticketing fiasco in Rio in 2016, after which a smiling Ross landed back in Dublin with a duty free plastic bag propped up in his trolley.
You’d think Ross would want to forget about the Olympics but, no, in July 2017 he raised the prospect of Ireland hosting the Olympic Games. “The sky’s the limit,” Ross said. On the topic of the island of Ireland potentially hosting the Commonwealth Games in 2022, Ross said, “I haven’t a clue quite honestly whether it’s a good or a bad idea . . . but sure let’s explore it”.
Christ on a bike. (Actually, best not mention cyclists.)
Then there was his what-could-possibly-go-wrong announcement in May about how Wesley College, a fee-paying school in his constituency, was granted €150,000 for resurfacing their hockey pitch as part of the Sports Capital Programme, something Ross tweeted he was “delighted to confirm”.
There was the controversy around the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill, something that has been been greeted with criticism from quarters including the European Commission.
Speaking of Bills, who can forget the time Ross accidentally voted against his own Road Traffic Bill in the Dáil in January? Or the bumbling handling of Stepaside Garda station?
At what point does a constellation of gaffes start to take the form of a galaxy of incompetence? Ross built a public persona as the guy who rages against insiders, a position that is impossible to hold when you are one. At some point, his voters will have to examine what he’s doing on the inside, because his is a star that is fading fast.